The Jefferson County Health Center will undergo a changing of the guard this week when current CEO Deb Cardin hands over the reins to her successor Bryan Hunger. Although Hunger stepped into the role April 18, he will officially take over Cardin’s responsibilities Friday. Hunger, whose most recent role was the chief provider services officer for the Regional Medical Center in Manchester, said he’s impressed with the health center. “There’s already a really strong foundation for success here. We already have a good medical staff and great leadership,” he said, adding that his goal would be to maintain the course the facility is on. “We just want to stay on top of current trends — health care is constantly changing. We need to be ready to adapt, and stay on top of legislative changes,” he said.
Hunger grew up in the rural southeast Iowa town of Mt. Union and graduated from Winfield-Mt. Union High School. “I played basketball in high school and I competed in Fairfield against Maharishi School,” he said. After graduating, Hunger went on a two-year church mission trip to Sacramento, California. “That was a real eye-opener for me,” he said. “I realized that there were a lot of people out there in need of help. It gave me a nice perspective on doing more than focusing on myself.” After his time in California, Hunger attended Southeastern Community College in West Burlington for one year before transferring to Brigham Young University-Idaho. “I loved it; it was a great experience. I met my wife, Angela, there,” he said of Brigham Young University. He graduated from the university with a bachelor’s degree in economics. However, it was during his time at Southeastern that he realized he had a passion for working in the health care field. “I spent some time volunteering at Great River Medical Center — it was right across the street from the college,” Hunger said. “I got to see different areas of the hospital — its whole mission is to help people.” Though Hunger learned he had a passion for helping others, he also discovered that it wouldn’t be by the bedside. “I figured out that I’m not a science person,” he said laughing. “I’m a business person. I wanted to be involved but medicine wasn’t for me. I knew administration was for me.” Hunger graduated from Ohio University in 2007 with a master’s degree in health administration.
With Angela being from Texas originally, the couple moved to Galveston, where Hunger worked as a practice manager for The University of Texas Medical Branch. “I managed three family practices within a correctional facility,” Hunger said. After about a year in Texas, Hunger moved his family a little closer to where he grew up. Hunger’s most recent role was at Regional Medical Center in Manchester, Iowa, as chief provider services officer. “Angela has always liked a small-town atmosphere,” he said, adding that Iowa was a great place to raise their five children. The Hunger family lived in Manchester for seven years. Hunger said his children would attend schools within the Fairfield Community School District. “The older ones will miss their friends,” he said. “But they love the idea of being near their grandparents, who live in Washington.”
Hunger, who was initially selected by the health center’s search committee and then later by the board, was Cardin’s first choice as a successor. “He was mentored by a CEO I admired the most in my career,” Cardin said. “[Hunger’s] brother is a CEO at the Washington County Hospitals and Clinics. I respect him. I thought they would be able to bring in collaborative efforts.” Cardin, who has been a nurse for 40 years and with the health center since 1999, said she has “mixed feelings” about retiring. She said she will miss checking on the patients every morning. “We’ve developed a culture here. People here are here for the right reasons. It doesn’t matter whether it’s nursing, dietary, maintenance or housekeeping, they know as a team how to deliver quality and compassionate care — I will miss that the most,” she said. “It’s really been an honor and a privilege to lead this organization.” Now, Cardin said that she and her husband, Mike, a permanent substitute for Cardinal Community School District, and their dog Bogy, a therapy dog at the school, plan to move to Pella to their new home on Red Rock Lake. “The kids were in tears,” she said of Mike and Bogy’s exit from Cardinal. “It was a really emotional day for them.” The couple plans to spend time with their grandchildren during retirement. Hunger, whose time at the health center is just beginning, is ready for the challenge.