PENDLETON - Vonni Simonton saw plenty of people go in and out of her boss Jeff Drop's office during his years as St. Anthony Hospital CEO. His visitors, she said, were an eclectic mix ranging from members of the janitorial and kitchen staff to technicians, nurses, physicians and board members.

She will miss Drop and his open-door policy as he leaves the hospital and heads to North Dakota to oversee 11 hospitals for Catholic Health Initiatives, St. Anthony's parent company.

"His gift to the hospital was his openness with employees and ability to communicate," Simonton said.

She also described Drop as determined, focused and the owner of a dry sense of humor. Two medical subjects that fire him up, she said, were quality of patient care and hospital technology.

The first drove him to champion things like the hospital's new urgent care center. The latter prompted him to study a pile of technology magazines and support numerous technological upgrades during his tenure.

Drop arrived at St. Anthony 14 years ago. He remembers a sea of orange.

"Physically, the hospital needed help," he recalled. "Everything was orange - we wanted a more appealing, less harsh look."

Dr. John McBee, a St. Anthony board member, said Drop was innovative and not squeamish about taking unpopular stands.

"He was very flexible and aggressive in change," McBee said. "He has done things in the past 14 years that weren't always popular, but were always for the benefit of the hospital."

One such decision involved tearing down a convent to make way for hospital expansion, McBee said.

The surgeon praised Drop for reaching out into the community by doing things like getting defibrillators into key locations around town and taking an active role in Festival of Trees.

During his tenure, Drop shepherded a $15.2 million renovation, completed in 2004, that created new waiting rooms, day surgery rooms, surgical suites and a digital imaging area.

Recent changes at the hospital include the urgent care center, the addition of "hospitalists" and the purchase of 93 acres in southwest Pendleton for future hospital growth.

As he looked back on key changes at St. Anthony, Drop called the hospital board "visionary" and advised his successor to follow its lead.

"The board is very in tune with the pulse of this place," Drop said.

He also credited the hospital staff for making him look good the past 14 years and doing it with a smile.

"The team is in place," he said. "I was just one cog."

Drop will be based out of Fargo, North Dakota, a place not known for its balmy, tropical weather. He said he and wife Laurie are ready for the ice and snow after experiencing the cold of Iowa earlier in his career.

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