Dr. James Longabaugh, D.O., settles in as new hospital CEO
After 24 years of practicing as a family physician at Sabetha Family Practice, Dr. James Longabaugh, D.O., is settling into his new role as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Sabetha Community Hospital (SCH).
Dr. Longabaugh began his new role on Jan. 3, after former SCH CEO Lora Key retired. So far, he said he is enjoying his new position.
“I have really enjoyed it so far,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “It has been a different type of stress, but it’s been enjoyable. I have enjoyed getting to know the people even better. Obviously, I knew the people that worked here. Working – somewhat – beside them from a physician standpoint, but it’s a different role now, and I really enjoy getting to know them from a more personal standpoint.”
While Dr. Longabaugh has been practicing in the healthcare field for nearly 25 years, becoming a doctor was not the first job he sought out.
“When I graduated from K-State, I was looking for a job in sales and after interviewing with many pharmaceutical companies, I found out I was just not cut out for sales,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “So, I took a job at the Herrington Hospital as a lab tech and worked there for three years.”
With a bachelors degree in microbiology and chemistry, Dr. Longabaugh fit into the lab well and began to learn the healthcare field “very well.”
“Due to a law change at that particular time, lab techs were going to be forced to get some extra training and one of the doctors at that time said, ‘Well, would you rather apply to med school instead?’ and I said, ‘I guess.’ So, I did and the rest is history,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “So, I really enjoyed the lab and had the law change not come about at that time, I might still be there working in the lab. But, the federal government forced me to look for a different career.”
With the new dream of becoming a doctor, Dr. Longabaugh went on to complete his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree at the University of Health Sciences in Kansas City, Mo. Then, he completed residency at Smoky Hill Family Practice Residency in Salina.
After his residency at Smoky Hill Family Practice, Dr. Longabaugh moved to Sabetha in 1997 to begin his medical practice.
In addition to being a family physician, Dr. Longabaugh has served as the Medical Director for the Sabetha EMS since 2000 and has served on numerous boards and committees at the local and state level.
Now that he has begun his new role as CEO, Dr. Longabaugh is no longer practicing at the Sabetha Family Practice, but is still helping out when and where he can.
“I am taking calls in the evening and weekends, to help the other doctors get a better work-life balance,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “I feel so blessed that I am able to still help fulfill some role in something that helps them spend time with their family. So, I take the equal amount of calls to the other physicians on weekends, and I take calls on Monday nights.”
As for his role as the Sabetha EMS Director, Dr. Longabaugh said he has “no plans to give it up.”
“EMS has always been a passion of mine and I am board certified in EMS. There are not very many physicians that are board certified in EMS,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “I am one of the 13 family practice physicians in the United States that are board certified in EMS. I really cherish that and I worked hard to get that board certification.”
Dr. Longabaugh said Sabetha EMS continues to grow and thrive.
“I want to keep working with the local people and we have visions on continuing to expand that [EMS Department],” Dr. Longabaugh said. “We have people in the EMS class now. We have young people in the paramedic portion, as well. So, we have visions of expanding our EMS capabilities here. I enjoy EMS and I enjoy the people here in our EMS system. They are very passionate about what they do and it shows. I don’t want to give that up.”
While Dr. Longabaugh wears many hats, he said he’s also trying to practice a work-life balance in his new role.
“This has really been a great mind-occupier for me,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “I’ve really been able to throw myself into this and it’s a great time in my life to be able to do that. It’s been very healthy for me and I’ve enjoyed it.”
New Additions to SCH
In addition to expanding the EMS Department, Dr. Longabaugh said there are many plans being explored to expand the services at SCH.
“If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “I am always looking for new things, new talent, new services and certainly just lots of things happening in the hospital that are just very exciting. Some brand new things that have never been done at the Sabetha hospital before.”
New things being added (or already added) to the SCH’s repertoire include a new orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Adam Streit; two new surgeons; a new respiratory therapist, Kendra Douglas; a pediatric occupational therapist, Kasha Rebant; and MRI capabilities.
Dr. Adam Streit
“Dr. Adam Streit is off to such a good start and he is a sharp young man,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “Sabetha is his Kansas hub. So, he is here every week and he has done operations here in Sabetha that have never been done in Sabetha before.”
According to Dr. Longabaugh, Dr. Streit is very busy and he is here for “the long haul.”
“He has a vested interest in southeast Nebraska and northeast Kansas,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “He bought a farm not too far away. He’s near his family where he grew up. We know he is going to be a big part of our future and we’re very tickled about that. We’ve done everything we can to make sure he has a good place to operate, a well-trained staff and the equipment, we don’t have everything quite yet to do joint replacements or hip fractures yet, but that’s our goal, to really expand the services that he can provide.”
Two new surgeons will be moving to Sabetha and the surrounding area in the next two years.
“Sabetha has joined with Holton and Seneca in signing a recruiting contract with two other surgeons that will start this fall and one a year and a half from now. They are very nice young men and very well trained,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “Once again, they have a vested interest in this area. They have family nearby and they are going to be a huge part of our future, as well.”
Dr. Longabaugh said the SCH surgery department continues to grow in multiple aspects, including staffing, equipment and its capabilities.
“We know that [the surgery department] is going to be a big part of our future,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “Everything that we do from a planning standpoint, we will certainly take that into consideration.”
Douglas, the new respiratory therapist, began last week.
“We have not had a respiratory therapist here in this hospital for over 15 years,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “We have sent our respiratory therapy testing out of town since that period of time. We were fortunate enough to recruit her in. She will be doing some things here that haven’t been in Sabetha for many, many years. We will update the equipment that she will need to be able to perform pulmonary function testing and coordinate home sleep studies for sleep apnea and a pulmonary rehabilitation program. It’s going to be a neat program.”
“Not many small towns have a pediatric occupational therapist,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “So, we are fortunate enough to have that in our repertoire and add that to our already stellar and strong therapy department. Many areas of the hospital wax and wanes with certain seasons, but not the therapy department. They are constantly busy and we also know that as the orthopedic surgery department gets bigger, therapy will get busier as well. We’re looking at recruiting more staff for them and hopefully going to get them more space in the future to continue to grow their department. It’s amazing. That department is growing and they’re busy.”
SCH now has an MRI machine available on-site, along with a tech that can run the MRI machine.
“Our MRI tech is training other people to do MRIs, so we have MRI capabilities, at least five days a week if not more,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “It’s very nice and it’s getting utilized very frequently.”
Dr. Longabaugh also said they are hoping to increase the number of babies delivered at SCH, in order to get the numbers back to what it was a few years ago.
Future Hospital Plans
With all of the new programs coming to SCH, Dr. Longabaugh said the hospital will need to expand.
“We really want to be able to give them all the space that they need to do the things they want to do, or the things we need to do, and the tools for them to be able to accomplish those tasks as well,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “I know when the new portion of the hospital was constructed in 2005, there was a vision for phase two and phase three of that facility that included tearing this facility [the old hospital] down and adding a clinic onto that facility [the new portion of the hospital] as well. But times are a little different now, where our needs may be different.”
Dr. Longabaugh said, for example, that it wasn’t “anticipated” to have an orthopedic surgeon in house 22 years ago when those phases were drawn.
“We have had to go back to the drawing board a little bit and try to re-imagine what we are going to need for the next 20 years or longer maybe,” Dr. Longabaugh said, “or maybe even the next 50 years, but the physicians and other providers that we have coming in looks like we have a good 20-30 year plan that we need to develop to keep these providers satisfied. Part of that will be space.”
Dr. Longabaugh said “hopefully” with the help of the SCH Hospital Board and many community members, the hospital can begin to look at “significant” construction and expansion of the current facility.
“That process has already been started, with preliminary talks and drawings, early, early plans about various scenarios to either add on to the new facility here or construct a completely new standalone facility, near this campus as well,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “Both of those scenarios have been looked at in some minor detail right now, but will be looked at in much greater detail as the next few months go by. The hope is that as the next few months go by, we will really narrow some things down as to what plan will work best for the citizens of Sabetha and SCH.”
In addition to changes at the current hospital – located at 14th and Oregon Streets – Dr. Longabaugh said they have “outgrown” the Sabetha Family Practice clinic on Main Street.
“We’re busting at the seams down there [Sabetha Family Practice],” Dr. Longabaugh said. “We are flushed with providers and are really blessed with some great physicians and mid-levels. Part of the plan for the future is moving that clinic onto this campus [at 14th and Oregon Streets] and being able to expand those offices as well.”
Dr. Longabaugh said that while there are several options that have been discussed for the use of the Sabetha Family Practice, nothing is set in stone.
“Part of the usage for that space will depend on what we can build over here. If we can move everything over here on this campus that we would like to have, we may not need that facility at all, and might be able to sell it,” Longabaugh said. “Now, our goal is to have all of the clinic facilities attached to the hospital, so the providers can go from clinic to hospital freely and easily. That will certainly make their practice more efficient to either deliver babies or see people in the emergency department.”
As for which direction the hospital will go, Dr. Longabaugh said he is excited to see the “hopes and dreams” of colleagues, as well as his own come to fruition.
“I am very excited to be able to incorporate some of the hopes and dreams of the people I have worked with and heard from over the last 20 years, about which direction the hospital might go,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “Obviously, I have some of my personal opinions as well, but I feel like I’ve been able to assimilate the physicians’, staff members’ and nurses’ thoughts into those opinions as well. I’m very excited to have some small role in where the hospital goes as the next 10 years go by and really assimilate those thoughts and opinions. The future looks extremely bright. Build it and they will come.”
With all the new changes coming to SCH, Dr. Longabaugh said staffing issues are always at the “forefront” of any administrators list when talking about hospital staff right now.
“It’s just such a common problem, but I suspect most industries now are fighting some of the same issues,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “Our issues may be a little more public from a nursing staffing standpoint, but many other industries are fighting staffing issues and we are certainly in that same boat. We have really been able to recruit some very talented staff. We also really try to focus on retention. That is something we realized very early on that it is worthwhile on expenditure of resources to keep the talent and keep the good help that we have and not let them get away, if at all possible.”
Dr. Longabaugh said that SCH still has to recruit, but they will market themselves and “tout their benefits.”
“It might not always be money,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “We have other things, including great benefits, comradery and a very stable work environment. As witnessed by one of the gauges is our help wanted ad. It’s getting a little shorter. That might be a strange measure of success from HR, but my goal is to not have that some day.”
Staffing shortages are common, but are more prevalent now after the COVID-19 pandemic began, but Dr. Longabaugh said SCH is “rolling with the punches.”
“We’re just doing whatever we have to do to take good care of patients,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “That was our goal before the pandemic, during the pandemic and that will be our goal moving forward.”
Dr. Longabaugh said SCH is also making work-life balance an important part to his administrative standpoint.
“That is one of the other main themes to my philosophy,” he said. “Everybody has lives outside of the hospital and we want to do everything we can to support those endeavors and to attend family events and sporting events, and church activities, whenever they occur. We have really made it known that if you have other things to do, you let us know and we’re going to do our best to make accommodations to fit those things in. We’re going to walk that walk, not just talk about it, we’re actively doing it.”
With all of Dr. Longabaugh’s dreams and aspirations about the future of SCH, he said that former CEO Key taught him – as well as others who work at SCH – to be fiscally responsible.
“I think she [Lora Key] did such a good job,” Dr. Longabaugh said. “Times have been tough off and on in the healthcare field from a financial standpoint. She did such a good job of making sure that the hospital remained financially strong and solvent, and still able to do the vast majority of the things we needed to do here in Sabetha and not have to transfer everybody out of town. So, I think that was one of the great lessons I learned from her and I will certainly do my best to carry that along. Each CEO has their own visions and dreams. I have my own visions and dreams, too. Obviously, I will pick many other people’s brains as far as how to proceed, but I will still try to maintain the fiscal responsibility that Lora really encouraged us to do.”
About Dr. Longabaugh
Dr. Longabaugh was born and raised in Herrington, Kan. After high school, Dr. Longabaugh graduated from Kansas State University with a bachelor of science. Then, he went on to complete his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree at the University of Health Sciences in Kansas City, Mo. Following this, he completed residency at Smoky Hill Family Practice Residency in Salina.
After his residency, Dr. Longabaugh and his wife, Michele, moved to Sabetha in 1997, when he began working as a family physician at Sabetha Family Practice and Sabetha Community Hospital. They have three children, Matt, Jordan and Jake.
Matt is currently attending Kansas University and is majoring in Wildlife Biology.
Jordan will graduate soon from University of Missouri-Kansas City, and will begin a four-year OB-GYN residency at the University of Kansas’ Wichita campus.
Jake is currently attending Kansas State University and is majoring in business.