It seemed straightforward at the time. Dennis Barts was going to teach P.E. and science the rest of his life. He’d gone to college, gotten his master’s degree and started his career.

But plans change. What began as an experiment—a cardiac rehab internship— became his true calling. Now, as he enters his fourth major leadership position, this one as Avista Adventist Hospital’s chief executive officer, he recalls how three men he worked for, each named Jim, shaped who he is today.

The first Jim taught him compassion. The second Jim taught him focus and organization. Jim number three looked him in the eye and asked, “What do you want to do?” When Barts replied “hospital administration,” Jim offered to help him get there.

So Barts began learning the ins and outs of the business. Within three years he had been handed the reins of nearly every department. Barts has melded the three Jims’ leadership styles with his own health expertise and belief in the healing power of Christ to form an identity that values total patient care (both spiritual and physical) provided in a data-driven, results-based environment.

While preparing to interview at Avista, Barts unearthed some passages Ellen White had written about the Boulder Sanitarium, Avista’s predecessor. “Not everyone knows that Ellen White gave specific instructions to physicians in Boulder,” says Barts. “Early in the hospital’s history there was talk of building a rival Adventist hospital, which might have crushed both. Thankfully, her advice not to proceed with this was heeded.”

Barts’ move to Avista signals an increased inner cohesiveness for him. “What I missed while working in hospitals that weren’t sponsored by Adventists was the united front. From the workers on the ground floor to the leaders, we’ve got one mission in Adventist healthcare.” And this united front is, in part, Ellen White’s health vision realized. “White’s message puts Seventh- day Adventist hospitals at an advantage. Preventive care, long an Adventist tradition, is gaining traction everywhere,” Barts says.

Barts plans to devote some of his energy to the partnership between the local Adventist churches, pastors and the hospital. “Four million people will seek care in an SDA hospital each year—far more than will be reached in traditional outreach methods,” he adds.

Seeing modern medicine catch up to the church’s long-standing practices is validating to Barts. “One of the great things I see about Avista is that its culture is focused on the healing ministry of Christ,” he says. “The right arm of the message is alive and well at Avista.”

By CMBell Company for Rocky Mountain Adventist Health System/Centura Health.