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A Legacy of Caring: Remembering E.E. “Gil” Gilbertson

Former St. Luke's CEO E.E. "Gill" Gilbertson speaks at 50th anniversary of St. Luke's Nursing School in June 2011. Gilbertson, 86, died Thursday, July 17.
July 22, 2014

Former St. Luke's CEO E.E. "Gill" Gilbertson speaks at 50th anniversary of St. Luke's Nursing School in June 2011. Gilbertson, 86, died Thursday, July 17.

Elbert Edmund “Gil” Gilbertson steered St. Luke’s through health care advances and organizational growth as administrator from 1961 to 1988.

“I never knew a man so committed to an organization and to its vision and mission as Gil,” said Ed Dahlberg, former St. Luke’s CEO who succeeded Gilbertson. “His heart was always in the community and taking care of patients. It was palpable.”

Gilbertson, 86, died Thursday, July 17, 2014 at his Boise home.

He was a passionate, opinionated, outspoken advocate for the St. Luke’s family, every member of it. He cared fiercely about patients, loved and asked after their families, and was a staunch supporter of physicians, nurses, and other staff members.

“One of the things he used to tell me is, ‘You can’t expect patients to be happy if your staff isn’t happy,’” Dahlberg said.

Kerri Carruthers, Gilbertson’s daughter and a nurse at St. Luke’s Boise, said she’s always proud of the patient-centered culture at St. Luke’s, and that’s part of her father’s legacy.

“I remember him as being a man of integrity and honesty,” she said. “I’ve recently been struck by how quickly he can bond with someone. He was always interested in people.”

Gilbertson arrived at St. Luke’s in 1959 as the assistant administrator of what was then a one-hospital organization. He received a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota two years previously and was coming off a bracing book project when Bishop Norman Foote, then the Episcopal bishop and the majority shareholder of the then Episcopal-affiliated St. Luke’s, asked him to look into a position in Idaho.

“I liked what I’d read about Idaho,” Gilbertson said in a 2012 interview. “I had never come here before. It was still the biggest hospital in the state of Idaho. And the opportunity to work for Mrs. Ross (Helen Ross, then the hospital superintendent) was interesting. I fell in love with Boise.”

Gilbertson was a long-time member of St. Michael’s Episcopal Cathedral and other community organizations, including the Boise Philharmonic, the YMCA and the Rotary Club of Boise.

Gilbertson’s relationships with Bishop Foote, board and staff members, and the medical community were instrumental to all the changes that occurred during his career with St. Luke’s. He made a point of spending time in the doctors’ lounge, and counseled Dahlberg to do the same when his successor joined the hospital.

“I felt comfortable with the medical staff almost immediately,” Gilbertson said in the 2012 interview. “I liked physicians, always have.”

During Gilbertson’s tenure, the hospital was expanded, cardiovascular programs and the Mountain States Tumor Institute were established, pediatric and obstetric services were developed, and clinical practices were strengthened in many areas. Boise attracted highly skilled specialists who contributed significantly to a stepped-up level of patient care.

Gilbertson raised St. Luke’s profile through his active participation and leadership with the American Hospital Association. He was installed as chairperson of the AHA in 1983. During his tenure, AHA lobbied the Reagan Administration and the United States Congress on such issues as Medicare reimbursement, reinstating granting opportunities for medical schools and continued emphasis on regional and national health planning. He also helped found the Healthcare Executive Study Society, an educational organization with about 50 healthcare leaders nationwide.

In collaboration with Bishop Foote, Gilbertson effected the change that converted the hospital to community control. St. Luke’s also developed programs in response to President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs, including Medicare and Medicaid.

Gilbertson’s endeavors with hospital board members were highly productive. Board members’ roots in the community, as deep then as they are now, meant the organization built its financial and other resources thoughtfully and methodically. Hospital leaders built capital slowly and steadily. It was a conservative approach that kept the hospital on solid ground, laying the foundation for secure development going forward.

“Gil left a legacy, in the form of a strong, independent, Idaho-governed health system, one based in bedrock principles and integrity,” said Dr. David Pate, St. Luke’s president and CEO. “I can tell you that we have inherited a vital, robust St. Luke’s Health System as the result of Gil’s efforts and those of his successor, Ed Dahlberg. I was proud to call Gil a friend and mentor.”

Gilbertson was a husband to his late wife, Peg, a father of four and grandfather of seven. He loved spending time with family, fishing, golf, photography, sports, the outdoors and his dogs, mostly mutts, Carruthers said.

“I never feared making the wrong decisions because I felt very confident that I wouldn’t fall very far because of mom and dad,” she said.

The family took road trips together to Oregon’s Cannon Beach, Utah’s Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, and the Grand Canyon, she said. One year for Christmas, he gave his children something he called, “The Gift of Music” – tickets to various musical festivals and performances, like the Boston Pops.

“His legacy to us was family, and the love of the outdoors.”

Celebrating E.E. “Gil” Gilbertson’s life

Gilbertson’s family appreciates all the prayers, notes, and expressions of sympathy that they have been receiving and looks forward to the special celebration of his life that St. Luke’s will host. Family members, friends close to Gil and his family, and the St. Michael’s community are invited to a service and reception Friday, July 25, at 2 p.m. at the cathedral. Space is limited, so only family members, friends, and the church community can be accommodated. Plans for the St. Luke's event will be shared when they are finalized.