The Sanford Health Board of Trustees is a group of business, health care industry and community leaders responsible for governing the strategy and overall direction of Sanford Health.
For a non-profit health care organization with nearly 50,000 employees and a region spanning 250,000 square miles, that’s no small task.
The 13-member board oversees governance for the health system, guiding the pursuit of Sanford’s mission and providing oversight of the organization’s strategic direction and financial and operational performance.
At the helm is Neil Gulsvig, a trustee since 2019, who was elected to serve as chair of the Board in 2022.
Living in Wausau, Wisconsin, he links his passion and decades of expertise in health care back to his senior year of college.
Gulsvig’s entrance to health care
A University of North Dakota graduate, Gulsvig got a degree in public administration with plans to become a city administrator.
“A month before I was going to graduate, I decided to visit some nursing homes,” Gulsvig told Sanford Health News. “I went to five of them one day and the last one I visited was a Good Samaritan Society facility.”
That’s where he learned more about administration and really liked the idea of working in senior care. Within a few short weeks, he started at the Good Samaritan Society’s Larimore location.
“It touched me,” he explained, “all the people I came in contact with in the nursing home, the joy that you could provide to them and the joy that they could provide to you.”
While Gulsvig started with Good Samaritan Society, his career path led him to leadership roles with other large long-term care companies, including Beverly Enterprises, Inc. – one of the nation’s largest nursing home operators – and eventually beginning his own business.
Today, Gulsvig and his wife Janice are the founders of Align and ActivLife, leading software firms focused on helping providers improve quality, employee engagement, customer experience and well-being in the senior care profession.
With his background in health care, Gulsvig brings focus and depth of perspective about the industry but as an independent board member, he also brings a clear perspective and the ability to lead impartial, objective decisions that are in the best interests of the company.
Gulsvig said, with his passion for people and residents, he couldn’t see himself working anywhere outside of senior care.
Serving the Society, and later Sanford Health
In 2009, Gulsvig was invited onto the Good Samaritan Society board and three years later, served as chairman.
“I wanted to give back to the organization that was directly responsible for me being where I was at that time,” Gulsvig said.
He completed his term on the Good Samaritan Society board in 2015 and was later invited to serve the organization, this time with a seat on Board of the newly merged Sanford Health and Good Samaritan Society organizations beginning in 2019.
“We are focused on what truly matters, which is the care and well-being of thousands of people that are needing health care, whether it be from the acute care side, the home care side, the senior side, all of those things,” he said. “We are focused on making sure everything we do that can keep the organization focused on what truly matters.”
He said breaking it down into simplest terms is how everyone can understand it best.
“Bill Gassen, Sanford Health CEO, was brilliant in the way he set his priorities: patients, residents, people and communities,” he said. “It’s easy to understand, easy to repeat and just makes sense. That’s what it’s about for me. It’s not too complex and focused on how to meet the needs of all four.”
Why a governing board is important
“Every organization needs a governing board to hold organizational operations accountable and responsible for heading in the right direction and doing the right things,” Gulsvig said.
“Our role is directing strategy,” Gulsvig said. “We take our fiduciary role and responsibility very seriously. We work with leadership, help the organization stay focused on the people we take care of, the people who work at Sanford Health and the people in the community.”
He said every board needs independence and good dialogue and debate, with diverse viewpoints where all voices are heard.
“You need to have healthy tension where people have the opportunity to disagree and interrogate what’s going on,” he said. “And at the end of the day, at the end of the meeting, we agree upon something as a board and walk out in lockstep knowing we all believe the decision is the right decision we’ve made together.”
Sanford Health trustees are elected by the full board and currently serve up to three 3-year terms. The Board of Trustees Nominating and Governance Committee is responsible for identifying, evaluating and recommending potential new members based on their qualifications and experience. Trustees represent a broad range of backgrounds, with extensive experience in business and finance, health care, technology and the nonprofit sector.
Priorities and passions on board
The board is focused on Sanford’s vision to become the premier rural health care organization and making sure every patient has an exceptional care experience.
Read: Sanford’s commitment to its communities
“That is such a challenging and yet such an exciting road to be on,” Gulsvig said. “If we don’t do it at Sanford, who’s going to do it?”
Additionally, he said there is a lot of anticipation around the virtual care strategy moving forward to make care more affordable and accessible across the rural footprint.
“It will change the way we look at health care.”
Aside from serving on the board, Gulsvig is passionate about his family, children and grandchildren. When he’s not working, Gulsvig is an avid golfer and loves to travel.
He says it’s a “great honor” to serve Sanford Health, the Good Samaritan Society and its many communities.
“Starting out as an administrator in Larimore, North Dakota, I never would’ve dreamed that I’d be serving as the chair of a health care system but it’s an honor to do it and it gives me the opportunity to continue to give back,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate in my life in so many different ways and this gives me the opportunity to give back to something, to an organization, to a profession that I’m very focused on – and really excited to be part of – continuing to give back to that.”
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