Renée Jensen has kept tabs on the city’s medical center ever since she graduated from Monroe High School 20 years ago.

She was named EvergreenHeath Monroe’s chief administrative officer in March. Since coming on in May, Jensen has developed a new strategic plan for the center. The document includes input from every one of the building’s roughly 400 employees.

“At this point I think the community should be watching,” she said. “I feel like we are gaining momentum in the few short months I have been here.”

The collaborative approach is typical for Jensen, said the center’s interim Chief Nursing Officer Deborah Jayne. The two women worked together in the recent past, at the Summit Pacific Medical Center in Elma.

It is a small facility, in a little, socioeconomically challenged community, Jayne said. She said the team she joined was young and vibrant, and the energy amongst the staff and leadership was notable.

“It was just obvious to me that something big had happened in this community,” she said.

Jensen said she has a knack and is known for building and implementing a strong vision for a community medical system. She said she was able to turn the dying Grays Harbor Public Health District No.1 — now Summit Pacific Medical Center — at risk of closing down into a nationally recognized facility.

“Renée is a highly regarded hospital administrator who brings a wealth of experience, accomplishments and passion to our health system,” said EvergreenHealth CEO Bob Malte in a news release. “Her strategy-based leadership, ability to implement cultural change, financial aptitude and skillful physician relations will further EvergreenHealth Monroe’s vision of being the most trusted source for health care in the community.”

In Elma, Jensen helped stabilize the organization’s finances, and she planned and directed the opening of a $23 million health care facility, according to the release. She got Washington’s first rural Accountable Care Organization (ACO) up and running, which is a group of medical professionals who collaborate on providing care for their patients.

The Monroe native said she grew up considering career paths that challenged traditional gender roles at the encouragement of her dad. She asked to be a firefighter or an astronaut. She said he told her she could be whatever she wanted, and “I believed him.”

Eventually she developed a love for science, and set her sights on becoming a physical therapist. In college she majored in biology and chemistry, and then started work in a medical laboratory, where she met a great mentor. She said “at the old age of 30,” she was hired as the CEO at Summit, where she stayed for the past decade.

Jensen said she was eager to get back to Monroe. She said she wants to see the center become the community’s hospital again, “not just hospital but medical system.”

The facility hasn’t been thriving from what Jensen has seen and heard from the community. Medical services offered at the center have been somewhat stagnant in recent years, and through her strategic plan she hopes to strengthen the center’s finances.

Valley General Hospital became EvergreenHealth in 2015. Jensen said she isn’t sure the facility would have survived had the Kirkland-based organization not absorbed the local site.

Monroe’s medical center is an accredited, full-service, 74-bed public hospital district, established in 1960, according to EvergreenHealth. EvergreenHealth serves nearly one million residents in King and Snohomish counties.

Jensen said one of her biggest aspirations for the near future is to make baby deliveries an option again at the hospital. There are rooms in one wing of the building that used to be where mothers gave birth that are spacious and have outdoor patios. Each one is currently full of equipment or used to train staff, she said.

The maternity program was shut down years ago because the hospital was struggling financially, Jensen said. To bring it back and in alignment with her vision will take work. She plans to gut the rooms and give them the feel of a spa, with amenities like a tub women can relax in while in labor, or have a water birth if they would prefer.

Jensen said pulling off that kind of plan requires a huge upfront investment. It takes years for a facility to start making money on a new department. She would need to get a few things in place to make it happen, but her goal is to have the first birth by 2019, if all goes as planned.

Jayne said Jensen is already working to make the medical center a place where Monroe residents will want to come for services. It is common for people living in the area who commute elsewhere for work to choose to receive care closer to where they are employed, Jensen said.

“No one wants to be that far away from their emergency care,” Jayne said.

Monroe’s 24-hour Emergency Room, which Jensen said she has heard most positive comments on from community members, has about 40-50 people coming through its doors on a daily basis. That number is lower than it could be, she said.

Jensen is still trying to figure out why more people aren’t coming in, but also said it means there is room to grow. She said her next steps in the upcoming months are to become more closely acquainted with community members and leaders, to start developing those relationships.

Jayne said Monroe’s medical system is poised to be a very strong asset to the community. Jayne said Jensen has the ability to keep the strategic plan on track, which is why she is able to make significant progress.

Jensen said she prefers to use the plan as a living document, and as the “driver of everything.”