PITTSBURG — Dan Lingor may have passed away on Thursday, but his efforts and guidance live on in the Pittsburg community.
For 19 years, Lingor served as the President and CEO of Mt. Carmel Regional Medical Center, now known as Ascension Via Christi. In 1987, he became the first lay administrator of Mt. Carmel Hospital — which is significant because since 1903, the hospital was always directly run by one of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita.
Lingor, however, was more than just an administrator who led changes throughout the hospital — he made an everlasting impact on his family and his employees.
Lingor, originally from North Dakota, began his career in 1972 as an assistant administrator at St. John’s Hospital in Joplin. He came back to North Dakota in 1978 and became CEO of St. Joseph’s Hospital. This is when and where Lingor met his wife Eliane. The couple would have been married for 40 years in October. The couple have a son, Christopher, who has a wife, Megan and two young children, Juno and Caleb. The Lingors would later move to Pittsburg in 1987, when he became president and CEO of Mt. Carmel Hospital. He worked there until he retired in 2006 due to medical reasons.
“I would say all of his life he’s had a really strong heart for helping people,” Eliane Lingor said.
Lingor got his RN degree and was working on becoming a nurse anesthetist at the Mayo Clinic when he decided he wanted to “help more people,” Eliane Lingor said, adding that this is something many people may not know about him.
He was also led by his Christian faith, she said.
“We’re there [at church] whenever the door is open almost,” Eliane Lingor said, adding that they’ve been members of the First Christian Church for 32 years. “It’s a very strong part of our lives, in fact, Dan really tried to bring his faith as much as possible into his workplace and it was really wonderful working at the Catholic hospital.”
People noticed, including Krista Postai, CEO of Community Health Center Southeast Kansas. Postai had worked with Lingor for 17 years as the vice president of planning and marketing until she began working for CHC/SEK.
According to Postai, Lingor always worked closely with the doctors on what they needed.
“He listened to the doctors and he listened to the patients,” she said. “He did not impose his own opinions or ideas, he listened to everybody else and figured out what made sense or took it to the board.”
In addition to his employees, the hospital’s “Pink Ladies” — volunteers who assist people who enter the hospital and others who browse through the gift shop — also “loved him,” Postai said, adding that he always jumped in and participated in special events honoring the Pink Ladies.
“He was a great servant leader, I learned servant leadership from him,” Postai said. "He always made you feel like you were important and he did that with the auxiliary and with the Foundation.”
Lingor was a perfectionist, Postai said. The little things mattered, she said, and he took care of people the way he wanted his family to be taken care of.
“He worried about things, he worried about failure and he didn’t need to,” she said. “He turned the hospital around, we had some really, really great years and he positioned Mt. Carmel, which became Via Christi, for the future.”
During his 19 years of leadership in Pittsburg, Lingor led the hospital through difficult times for rural hospitals and into a period of growth that transformed Mt. Carmel from a “small community hospital into the regional medical center,” Postai said. “So we changed the name while he was there from Mt. Carmel Hospital to Mount Carmel Regional Medical Center, we truly went regional, and brought in specialists, recruited about 25 to 30 physicians to southeast Kansas, specialists and primary care at a time when that generation of physicians was retiring, so he left a good legacy.”
Lingor was a “builder” and under his leadership guided the hospital through numerous expansion efforts including the development and construction of the Mt. Carmel Regional Cancer Center — the first hospital in Kansas to combine medical and radiation oncology in one location to reduce stress on the patient and better coordinate care, Postai said. Before the cancer center, patients who could often traveled to Joplin or Kansas City for some or all of their treatment, as there simply wasn’t a comprehensive, local resource anywhere in southeast Kansas.
Mt. Carmel Regional Cancer Center just celebrated 25 years and it almost didn’t happen, Postai said.
“There was opposition from other medical communities in southeast Kansas and a lot of pressure to give it up and it was really expensive,” Postai said, “he got KU to come down to start the program in the basement of the hospital and then built the first cancer center in the state and in the region that had everything together … and we have the cancer center today, so he was instrumental in that.”
He also led the most significant expansion in the hospital’s 103-year history – the $16.5 million renovation and construction of the medical center’s outpatient services center, including the opening of the Mt. Carmel Regional Heart Center, Postai said. It doubled the “footprint” of the hospital and prepared it for the industry shift to more same-day services and shorter hospital stays.
The development of physician offices Mt. Carmel Medical Plaza I and II, which also created a separate space for Outpatient Rehabilitation Services, were also led by Lingor. He was instrumental in the development of Via Christi Village and the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, Postai said.
Under Lingor’s administration, Mt. Carmel was nationally recognized by the American Hospital Association in 1991 as one of the top three hospitals in the nation to respond to changes in healthcare, winning AHA’s Great Comebacks Award. In 1999, he and the hospital were recognized by the AHA with its highest award – the NOVA – for its innovative approach to meeting the needs of the community. The Catholic Health Association went on to recognize Mt. Carmel with its highest award – the Achievement Citation – for its role in establishing the Family Resource Center in Pittsburg.
Approximately a month ago Postai and Lingor met to give a speech about the cancer center’s history.
“I just knew [about his health] and I had to thank him for all he had done for me and all of the lessons I’ve learned while working for him and the freedom he gave me to be creative and innovative,” Postai said.
He made a “huge” impact on Pittsburg and health care, Postai said, including his view on life.
“He was very spiritual and that helps in a leader. He is the one who told me that in the word administration is the word minister, and to not forget that and part of our job in life is to minister to people,” Postai said.
“He was so dedicated to his work at the hospital, it just really was a big, big, big part of his life,” Lingor’s wife said. “He gave it all he could.”