COVID-19 vaccine: Get the latest updates on children’s doses, booster shots and more. Learn More

Tomah Health IT Director Lucky, Thankful

LaVonne Smith said she was lucky and thankful to have been in the right place at the right time when the opportunity arose to add computers at Tomah Memorial Hospital.

That was 36 years ago, when as a member of the Admissions Department at the former Tomah Memorial Hospital, Smith was offered a position to help add computers at the healthcare facility. Fast forward to 2021, Smith is still working with computers but now wrapping up a 40 year career with Tomah Health.

LaVonne Smith, Tomah Health IT Services Director, poses in the data center, wearing a mask.
Tomah Health Information Technology Services Director LaVonne Smith posed one last time in the state-of-the-art data center at Tomah Health. Smith has retired her position after 40 years with the organization.
“I started at Tomah Memorial Hospital before computers,” Smith said when recalling her start with the organization. “Our computer was a typewriter and I worked in the front office doing admissions and (patient) registration and shortly thereafter in 1985, Administration decided to put in a computer system and I was approached to help set it up.”

Despite no computer background, Smith said she was fortunate to be considered for the position. “In the beginning it was on the job training,” she said. “I was lucky to have multiple educational opportunities through the hospital that were offered to me, through Viterbo (University), the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative, online training and vendor supplied training; so there were plenty of opportunities to learn every day.”

That is exactly what she did. “In this type of field, you always learn; every day. You never stop learning,” said Smith.

As one can imagine, computer technology has drastically changed over 40 years. “I had the perspective in my life that you always try something new and it was a great opportunity to start off and be involved at ground-zero.”

Being able to grow with the organization and the ever-changing technology was significant to Smith. “There are a lot of aspects of the work that I am very proud of because I was part of an organization that from the board to the administration team to the people who worked bedside; they all supported the changes.”

Tomah Health Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Joseph Zeps said under LaVonne’s leadership, the hospital’s information technology environment grew from a single desktop personal computer to an integrated system that supports nearly every aspect of the hospital’s operation. “We will always be thankful for her dedication to the hospital and sincerely appreciate the difference she made for our staff, providers and patients during her 40 year career at Tomah Memorial Hospital and Tomah Health,” said Zeps. “She helped the organization implement its first electronic health record over 20 years ago, and guided us through another significant conversion just a few years ago, and also helped design and build the state-of-the-art data center at Tomah Health.”

Smith also made an impact in her profession outside the organization when named one of the ‘Top CIOS (chief information officers) to Know’ in the U.S. three years in a row beginning in 2017. She also was recognized by HMS, a leading healthcare analytics and technology organization, as a “Hero in Healthcare” in 2004, and named a “Rural Health Ambassador” by the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative in 2009.

Two highlights over her career included the addition of an electronic medical record or EMR in 1990, and the creation of a Patient Portal that allowed patients the opportunity to view their own personal medical records, make electronic payments and communicate via a secure computer portal in 1995. “At Tomah Health, we’re incorporated into the heating system, air conditioning system, imaging or radiology, our Women’s Health with fetal monitoring, cardiac monitoring system to Nutrition Services in helping to offer and monitor appropriate diet to our patients. There’s not a corner that we do not touch.”

Due to COVID-19, Smith said the past year might have been one of the most challenging with staff working from home, while maintaining daily tasks. “Our staff exceeded expectations by being flexible, resourceful, thinking outside the box. It is unbelievable what we accomplished to handle this national emergency so quickly and effectively after the opening the new hospital,” Smith said. “My staff was instrumental in transitioning staff to home work environments, increasing conference call options, offering telehealth, while implementing various changes to meet COVID-19 requirements.”

Regardless of all the advancements, LaVonne said it was the personal touch and working with people that she will miss the most. “I think it’s unique that I have had the experience to work 40 years at one place and the people that I have come to know- past and present- share the same focus to provide the best healthcare possible,” Smith said. “They’re family.”

headshot of Heather Laudon, the new IT Services Director at Tomah Health
Heather Laudon is the new Information Technology Services director at Tomah Health
Calling it her “second childhood”, Smith said she is looking forward to retirement and opportunities to travel and spend time with her family. “I consider myself a lucky girl to have been involved in this TMH/TH journey of providing healthcare services to our community. There was magic in growing up at TMH while working in registration, billing, general ledger, human resources, data processing and finally as the Director of Information Services Technology,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t change a thing. I am a believer in ‘everything happens for a reason’, and every challenge is an opportunity to learn and gain experience. I am grateful.”

Heather Laudon was named the new Tomah Health Information Technology (IT) Services director replacing Smith.

Tomah Health