By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

BIG SKY – While construction workers at the Big Sky Medical Center site are on track for a late fall 2015 completion, the project’s underwriters are building a foundation for its treatment plan.

Bozeman Deaconess Health Services in February hired Dr. Phil Hess as the center’s medical director, one of five doctors it expects to employ at BSMC. The first physician BDHS hired was Dr. Maren Dunn, who owned and operated Gallatin Family Medicine in Big Sky before BDHS acquired Dunn’s practice on Jan. 1.

Dunn will continue to see patients in her Meadow Village clinic until she moves her practice into the new Big Sky facility. She will be adding inpatient services to her current outpatient practice, while the four other doctors, including Hess, will provide outpatient and 24-7 emergency care.

Hess has more than 18 years experience as a physician, including work in the private sector as well as rural health clinics and critical access hospitals. He lived in Helena for 10 years, treating patients at St. Peter’s Hospital and through a private practice before moving to Cordova, Alaska in 2008.

“That’s when I started doing the real small town work,” Hess said. “This was full-on being a small town doc.”

Feeling the isolation in the rural Alaska town, Hess relocated in 2010 to Anchorage, where he acted as medical director for a rural clinic and an emergency room physician at a second facility. A return to Montana is something Hess has considered for years, and he says the plan finally fell into place.

“Big Sky’s not nearly so isolated [as Cordova],” said Hess, whose daughters Danielle and Erin are both enrolled at Montana State University. “I sniffed around at some opportunities until Selina Irby [BDHS physician recruiter] called me. It seemed like perfect timing on a number of levels.”

Hess was part owner of a Glacier condo in Big Sky while living in Helena, and he and his daughters learned to ski at Big Sky Resort in the winters.

Eight years ago, Hess talked to Dr. Jeffrey Daniels, who runs the Medical Clinic of Big Sky, about relocating to the area, but at the time Daniels didn’t have openings. Hess says he’s looking forward to the serendipitous return that will bring him closer to his daughters and offer sunnier days than he saw in Alaska.

“Life is ironic and fun,” said Hess, who’s also an avid mountain biker. “Big Sky is one of my favorite places in Montana, no doubt about it.”

Hess and his partner Natalie Osborne plan to move to Big Sky in July and he’ll start working with BDHS to implement plans for BSMC in early August.

As medical director for the new facility, Hess will be responsible for scheduling physicians and support staff, recruiting, implementation of the electronic health record, and interfacing with the community for outreach and marketing.

With small-town medical expertise and a background running treatment facilities, Hess’ portfolio lends itself to a community medical center such as BSMC, according to BDHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Chen.

“One of our goals was to have a very well-rounded group of physicians [who have] the ability to do both primary and acute care,” said Chen, who leads the recruitment program for BSMC. “Speaking with [Hess’] other colleagues, they look to him for leadership and to make things happen. He’s exactly what we were looking for in terms of skillset.”

Hess knows there’s work ahead to gain the trust of Big Sky residents and visitors, but says that getting to know community members is a priority.

“I think as a new facility it’s going to take a little time to establish itself,” said Hess, but points to the outreach and marketing efforts he plans to implement. “Our clients and patients will really get to know our faces and we’ll get to know theirs.”