Welcome to our series, #WHYoming.
We are highlighting people from around our communities and asking them a few questions. We want to learn a little about them and see why they chose this great state to raise their families, start their businesses, or simply to ask — Why Wyoming?
For this week’s #WHYoming, we had a chance to talk with Irene Richardson, CEO of Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County. Irene has been in healthcare for 35 years and she is dedicated to providing the best care possible for Sweetwater County. She truly loves her job and the people she works with and for.
Irene is a Sweetwater County native and has lived here her entire life. She has raised her family here and can’t imagine herself living anywhere else. Her favorite part of living in Sweetwater County is the people, and that’s why she feels so honored to be able to serve them in her position with the hospital.
Irene, what challenges have you faced as the CEO of Memorial Hospital since the COVID-19 pandemic hit our community?
Our first priority was to ensure the safety of our patients and staff. The rapid changes in guidelines for precautions and safety were challenging, but our staff worked together as a team to adapt and accommodate them. Another challenge was to make sure that we were going to sustain financial viability during a time when many hospitals were closing or on the brink of closing.
Due to the shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE), hospitals around the country had to cancel elective surgeries and outpatient procedures to conserve PPE. We had to work fast and work smart to find ways to meet our financial needs so we could make sure we could take care of our community.
I would say the biggest challenge was the novelty of the virus and the uncertainty that surrounded it. We learned new things and incorporated changes daily, sometimes twice a day, to ensure the safety of our patients and staff. I’ve been in healthcare for 35 years, and this has probably been the most challenging event I have experienced.
What has the adjustments that the hospital had to make in the wake of the pandemic taught you as a leader?
So many things. I learned that all of the emergency planning exercises we conduct annually have been extremely beneficial and prepared us well for this emergency. I also learned that when things are changing so rapidly, you have to learn to adapt and make changes accordingly in order to survive.
I also learned that great teamwork is the key to success in any organization. We have extremely talented, skilled and compassionate people at our hospital and I learned that anything can be accomplished when everyone works together for the greater good.
I also learned that as a leader, you must learn to follow as well. My philosophy was that the front line staff knew what they needed to keep our patients and staff safe, so I listened to our skilled medical professionals and trusted their recommendations and it worked very well.
What made you decide to go into the healthcare industry?
My background is in finance and originally I wanted to work on Wall Street. But my heart belonged to Sweetwater County, so after I received my degree from the University of Wyoming, I came back home and started looking for that perfect job.
My mom is the one who told me to work at the hospital, so I applied for and accepted a position in the Finance department. I immediately fell in love with everything about the hospital—the people, the purpose, the atmosphere, the opportunity—I knew that I wanted to work there for the rest of my career.
I believe our community deserves excellent healthcare and I have faith in our hospital and I want to do everything I can to contribute and be a part of that.
What do you enjoy the most about your job?
Oh my goodness, I enjoy so many things about my job. I enjoy the people I work with, we are truly like a family. I enjoy our mission of taking care of our patients and community. I enjoy building relationships with our community partners and working together to make Sweetwater County awesome. I have truly been blessed because for the last 35 years, every time I walk in the door of our hospital I know we are striving to do our best to take care of our patients and community.
How did you end up in Sweetwater County? What do you appreciate most about our community?
I was born and raised in Sweetwater County, and with the exception of the years I spent in Laramie at the University of Wyoming, I have lived here for almost 57 years. The thing I appreciate most about our community is the people. I love Sweetwater County because the people are friendly and nice and we take care of each other. I was overwhelmed by the support from our community for our hospital during this pandemic and always, we are so grateful and appreciative. It makes me proud to live here and to be able to serve our community.
What is something unique about you?
I’m not sure if it’s unique, but I am a twin. My sister also works at the hospital as the Laboratory Director and we also live on the same street.
What are your some of your hobbies?
I love to spend time with my family; my boys, my sister and brother and their families and my mom. When I have time, I love to cook and bake. I also love to play board games with my kids, we love to find new games and we have quite a collection. I love planning trips and traveling, my favorite vacation spot is Disney! I also love watching sports; primarily baseball, football and basketball.
If you could give one brief piece of advice, what would it be?
My advice would be to never surrender. No matter how challenging something is, you have to believe in yourself and believe that you can accomplish anything you wish if you keep trying.
Where is your favorite place to hang out in Sweetwater County?
Haha, other than the hospital? For the last several years, my favorite place to hang out has been watching my son play baseball and basketball.
What would you sing at karaoke night?
I love karaoke! It would have to be “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” by Journey. Love the song and the message!
What is one of your proudest accomplishments?
I have two; my proudest accomplishments are my two boys, JD and Michael.
Who would you want to play you in a movie about your life?
That’s a great question! I’ve always wanted to write a book about my life and I always think about who would be the actors and actresses for all of the characters! I would say that young Irene would be played by Zooey Deschanel and more mature Irene would be played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I love these two ladies because they are funny and they match my personality.
Why do you choose to continue living in Wyoming?
I love everything about Wyoming and I can’t think of ever wanting to leave. Wyoming is home to me because of the people, the beautiful scenery, the openness and the charm. Wyoming is unique. It really is like one big city, only there are a lot of highways between us. Where else but in Wyoming can you go to a college football game and know almost everyone there from around the state! I love experiencing all four seasons, sometimes all at the same time, I love the blue skies, I love the sunrises and sunsets, I love the rock formations, and I love the quiet and peacefulness of living here.