A healthful goodbye



CUTLINE: Retiring Palmer Lutheran Health Center CEO Deb Chensvold shared a few memories on Friday with PLHC nursing staff members Mary Raatz, RN; Kimberly Mueller, RN, and Janette Zell, ward secretary. A 1970 North High graduate, Chensvold began pursuing her interest in healthcare during a work-study program her senior year. PLHC will host a retirement open house for the longtime CEO on Sunday, Sept. 22. (Mike Van Sickle photo)







A healthful goodbye

By Mike Van Sickle
Union editor


Palmer Lutheran Health Center (PLHC) staff and board members invite the public to help celebrate the dedicated service of longtime hospital supporter, former nurse, and retired CEO Deb Chensvold on Sunday, Sept. 22. 

“We can't thank Deb enough for her selfless dedication to Palmer Lutheran Health Center and the community,” said PLHC Board President Kent McElvania. “Under her leadership, Palmer Lutheran Health Center has prospered and evolved into a health-care facility that is the envy of any community. We are lucky she chose to pour her heart and soul into service for Palmer Lutheran, it’s employees, and the community. There are not enough words to express how grateful we are!”  

Chensvold equally expressed her gratitude on Friday to both past and current board members for their dedication to the entire community and its residents.

“I feel so fortunate to have worked with board members who have given so much of their time and knowledge, while ensuring that a quality hospital remains in the community. They have provided me with a great amount of encouragement and most certainly helped and supported me through some tough decisions over the years,” she admitted.




“Under [Deb Chensvold’s] leadership, Palmer Lutheran Health Center has prospered and evolved into a health care facility that is the envy of any community.”

…Kent McElvania

  PLHC Board President



“And what can I say about the staff? They are what make this hospital. It is not the brick and mortar. It is not just a job here. It is their passion and they are dedicated to doing the right thing,” added the West Union native. 

“There are a lot of people right behind me here, as far as tenure, and that has a lot to say about this hospital and how the staff cares about their patients,” she continued. “I will forever hold each of them (staff) in my heart. They have been great colleagues and friends,” she added.

Chensvold noted she is most proud that both she and the local health facility previously received high honors among workplaces in Iowa.

PLHC was ranked third in the top 35 mid-size employers of Iowa’s Top 100 Workplaces in 2012. Meanwhile, the retiring CEO was also honored in the same report, being named number one in leadership for mid-size employers. 

“It (the honors) provided each of us with some reassurance that we are doing things right. We all try to do what’s best for each other, our patients, and community,” she added.  

“As one of the largest employers in the county, I have been very fortunate to sit on many boards and organizations. It has been a privilege to work with so many good people in the community,” she stressed. “Once again, this is a beautiful building, but we need patients to come through those doors to be successful. With such a great staff we have a large number of people who trust us and utilize our services.”

Among the largest undertakings the retiree is extremely pleased to have played a part in, was the completion of the recent expansion project. Completed in September 2009, the renovations to the local hospital expanded the facility from approximately 60,000 sq. ft. to 90,000 sq. ft. In addition, 30,000 sq. ft. of existing space was renovated.

Major expansion occurred in emergency/urgent care, radiology, lab, physical/occupational therapy, cardiac rehab, diagnostic sleep-testing services, health information management, private patient rooms, a classroom/meeting room addition, and surgery.

A healthful path

Prior to even completing high school, the 1970 North High graduate began pursuing her interest in healthcare. Participating in a work-study program her senior year, Deb worked at then Palmer Memorial Hospital as a nurse’s aide.

She achieved her LPN in 1972 from Area I Vocational/Technical Institute (now Northeast Iowa Community College). Deb later returned to the Calmar college as an adult student in 1982 to earn her associate’s degree in nursing.

For her continuing support of the local community college, Deb was among the eight inaugural alumni inducted into the Northeast Iowa Community College Hall of Fame in October 2007. 

After serving as an LPN at Palmer from 1972-1980, Deb served as a registered nurse at the local hospital from 1980-87. During a portion of this time she also served as in-service director.

For the next decade, she led Palmer Lutheran Homecare Services as its director. During her tenure, the former West Union Citizen of the Year helped lead the effort in developing Palmer Home Health Agency and Heart of Iowa Hospice.  

Prior to being named PLHC president/CEO in 1997, Deb was also involved in the development of Palmer Home Medical Equipment and played an instrumental role in merging Fayette County Public Health with Palmer Home Health Agency to form Palmer Community Health.

Somehow over the years Chensvold has made the time to serve as a member or board member of numerous community, health, academic, education and leadership organizations. 

A diplomat of the American College of Health Executives (ACHE), the prestigious organization named Chensvold a Fellow of the ACHE in 2007. In 2008, she was also named among the 100 Great Iowa Nurses. Deb and the honorees from 38 counties were recognized for their courage, competence, and commitment to patients and the nursing profession. 

Deb and her husband, Allen, will celebrate 43 years of marriage in November. In addition to traveling with her husband, the grandmother of five is especially looking forward to spending more time with her entire family during retirement.

Deb and Allen are equally proud of their children and their spouses, Tina (Chad) Halverson and Tim (Hilery), each of West Union, and Tara (Mark) Estep of Cedar Falls, and five grandchildren, Ciara, Claire, Drew, Sam, and Jace.

“This job would not have been possible without the support of my family, especially over the past 17 years as CEO,” said Chensvold. My husband, Allen, has always been there for me, through the long hours, the stress, and frustrations.

“At the same time, my children and grandchildren have kept me grounded. Being able to go home to them and to their activities helped me keep this all in perspective,” she closed. “I am happy to be able to retire in good health and I am looking forward to the next phase of my life, wherever that may lead.”

As the longtime CEO passes through Palmer’s sliding doors on Thursday, she can be assured that a grateful staff and community realize her legacy includes leaving behind a facility with a clean bill of health. 


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