Hilltop CEO settling in after a year on the job

Mike Stahl

Mike Stahl had a long time to prepare to take over as chief executive officer of Hilltop Community Resources in Grand Junction.

By the time Stahl finally succeeded Sally Schaefer last summer, the transition had been in the works for six years.

“And we’d worked together for 25 years,” Stahl said. “We methodically staged it out and the transition has been very seamless.”

But not without its challenges.

“I think the biggest surprise has been managing the board of directors, scheduling meetings and keeping the board in the loop,” Stahl said.

Another challenge — the responsibility of serving as CEO — came as no surprise. But the gravity of that responsibility was something Stahl had to experience to fully understand. “Just the realizing the buck stops with me now,” he said.

Stahl said he’d been given a lot of authority as second in charge under Schaefer. But he didn’t have full responsibility for the fate of 540 employees and 18,000 clients served by Hilltop.

“But then you enjoy it,” he said, reflecting on his first year as CEO.

Part of that enjoyment stems from Stahl’s passion for Hilltop.

His father, Dennis Stahl, became director of Hilltop in 1970, working to add speech therapy and other programs to an organization that originally was established as an outpatient physical therapy center. By the early 1980s, Hilltop Rehabilitation Hospital included skilled nursing services at the site of what’s now the St. Mary’s Life Center on Patterson Road.

By the late 1980s, Mike Stahl had moved to California to work as a behavioral specialist for adults with brain injuries.

He didn’t anticipate he would someday work at the place his father managed. But when Schaefer joined Hilltop, she called Mike Stahl and asked if he’d come back to Grand Junction to help with the residential youth program.

Hilltop now operates 24 programs that serve people from age 2 to 102 and whose needs range from treatment for head injuries to assistance in senior homes, and from pre-natal preparation to pregnancy prevention programs. A 25th program is under consideration — a potential merger with the Senior Daybreak program that provides daycare services to seniors. The program might use space that’s currently unused in the Cottages senior living complex.

Hilltop services are so diverse they present a marketing challenge. “Many people say, ‘I don’t know what Hilltop does, but we know it helps people,’ ” Stahl said. “It’s an organization that if you don’t need our services, you might not know about us.”

While acknowledging his personality is different than that of the gregarious Schaefer, Stahl said they share an important trait. “We’re both very committed to the community.”

In addition to his duties at Hilltop, Stahl serves on an advisory board at Mesa State College. He’s also active on the Mesa County Healthcare Development Council, which has worked to develop a local health care system recognized nationally for its high quality and low cost. In addition, he belongs to the Kiwanis Club of Grand Junction.

Stahl’s involvement is a reflection of the involvement of Hilltop to help those in need. Just as the local health care system offers an example of the benefits of cooperation among doctors, hospitals and a large insurance provider, so do Hilltop efforts to help people requiring special attention. Stahl and other administrators from Hilltop work closely with the Division of Youth Services, Mesa County Department of Human Services and local assisted living facilities. They identify ways to meet needs while avoiding duplication of services. Hilltop was the original landlord for the Mesa County Workforce Center and still operates the child daycare center at the facility on North Avenue.

As for the future, Stahl expects Hilltop to continue to look for ways to expand services even as the organization tries to find funding in an economic downturn. Eagle County wants Hilltop to help establish a senior living center that offers a continuum of care. But the private foundation and government grants that help fund Hilltop services could decrease.

Like his father, Mike Stahl seems to relish whatever challenges lie ahead.

“I grew up around Hilltop. I’m proud to follow in his footsteps,” Stahl said. “But also realize Hilltop is much different. I look forward to establishing my own legacy.”