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Wednesday, January 23 , 2019, 4:22 pm | Fair 62º


CEO of Lompoc Valley Medical Center Set to Retire after 38 Years

Jim Raggio, who has led the organization for 20 years, is credited with keeping special district hospital healthy through turbulent times

Jim Raggio Click to view larger
Jim Raggio, CEO of the Lompoc Valley Medical Center, is set to retire after 38 years. He is credited for much of the hospital’s success. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Lompoc Valley Medical Center job candidate said bleak financial reports in the mid-1990s made him doubt whether he should work there, prompting an odd response when he shared that concern with his would-be boss.

Upon hearing that, CEO Jim Raggio smiled, expressed appreciation for the Bob Lingl’s attention to financial matters and asked a colleague to print a more recent report.

“Literally, everything had started flipping in just the first six months that he was there,” said Lingl, now Lompoc mayor, about Raggio’s role helming the hospital district. 

Raggio, 66, intends to retire after 20 years as hospital CEO and 38 years in total with the district, first managing the lab, then serving as director of clinical services, and leading Valley Medical Group before becoming CEO in 1998. 

His departure date is pending the district board’s selection of a new leader.

“This health care district, I have heard from many sources, is the most aggressive, most progressive health care district in the state of California, and it’s because of Jim Raggio,” said Lingl, who took the job and worked 15 years before retiring as clinical lab director. 

“There’s no doubt in my mind he’s responsible for the turnaround and the success of the hospital,” Lingl added.

Lompoc’s hospital is unique in that it’s operated by a special district board picked by registered voters. Lompoc Healthcare District formed in 1946, and boasts being the first of its kind in California.

In addition to the 60-bed hospital, the district operates the 110-bed Comprehensive Care Center and has other services. 

While many special district hospitals have flailed or ended up contracting its services to outside firms, Lompoc’s has not just survived but in many ways has thrived.

“We’re in the best financial position we’ve ever been in in the history of the health care district,” said Raggio, a San Francisco State University graduate. “And one of the reasons why I was hired is because there is a strong conviction on everybody’s part we want to stay independent.”

He counts the staff among his proudest accomplishments while his leading hospital.

“The quality of staff here I think is remarkable. It’s nice being able to provide opportunities for people that have just excelled,” he said, noting a former secretary who became a nurse and has risen to a leadership position. 

“There’s a number of stories like that,” he added.

During Raggio’s leadership, Lompoc has gained a new hospital building, asking voters to support a bond measure although consultants had doubts. 

“Much to their amazement, it passed with 87 percent voter approval after all these consultants told us it could never happen,” Raggio said. 

Measure E2005, seeking a $74.5 million bond, needed 66.7 percent yes votes to pass, but the 87 percent approval set a state record for a hospital property tax assessment.

“I get a lot of credit for building the hospital, but you can’t do this alone. There was just a tremendous amount of talent here that made this facility be on time and on budget,” Raggio said.

“It was a lot of talented people that are very committed, and we’re really lucky in the community to have them here.”

There have been failures, most noticeably the now-closed Champion Center, an effort to turn the old hospital building into a 21st century chemical dependency treatment facility.

“It’s one of the biggest disappointments, although when you look back on it, there’s nothing in retrospect we would have done differently,” he said, adding that consultants and other barometers pointed to success. 

But licensing troubles and insurance industry chaos hampered the Champion Center. “It was just bad timing,” Raggio said.

A Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury criticized the district's handling of the matter, but hospital district officials disagreed with the panel.

They continue to seek a use for the old building — including potentially partnering with Santa Barbara County for a crisis stabilization unit —  but say for now it’s helping fulfill space needs by housing the district’s laundry service. 

Raggio credits geography — it’s 35 miles to reach the next nearest hospital — and innovation with keeping the facility’s vital signs healthy. For instance, Lompoc’s district joined with four others to form the District Hospital Leadership Forum focused only on district-operated hospitals. 

“Right now that organization is distributing about $300 million a year to all California health care districts, so we’re very proud of the fact that we were one of the founding members of that,” he said. 

Raggio said he and his family, all of whom have been treated at the Lompoc hospital, plan to stay in town when he retires.

“What I think is the best about this organization is the synergy that goes on with the governance, and with the quality of leadership and the decisions that are made,” he said. “They’re made quickly, and there’s not a lot of huge corporate overlay. 

“But the board has always been only focused on what’s best for the community. It’s just been a wonderful environment to be in.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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