Nicholas John Wolter, M.D., 70, of Pray, Montana, died September 7, 2018, at his home in Paradise Valley. Nick was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1947, the eldest child of five children.
Nick majored in English at Carleton College and through his studies gained a deep appreciation for literature, art, film, and music. His appreciation for the arts continued throughout his life. After college, Nick taught English and history at a private school in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and then enrolled at the University of Michigan where he earned a master’s degree in American Culture. Ultimately, Nick went on to medical school at the University of Michigan and completed Internal Medicine and Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine fellowships at Bassett Healthcare in Cooperstown, New York, and at the University of Michigan.
Upon graduation, Nick accepted a job opportunity with Billings Clinic largely due to the multi-specialty group practice structure of the clinic. Once at the Clinic, Nick’s medical practice flourished. He became the first medical director of Critical Care for the clinic, expanded services for patients with Cystic Fibrosis, and became Director of Respiratory Therapy. He also volunteered his medical expertise at free migrant worker clinics in the Billings area. Nick treasured the close connections he developed with his patients and their families.
Nick never aspired to become a clinic and hospital administrator, but became chair of the Clinic’s Executive Committee, and ultimately, played a key role in the integration of Billings Clinic and Deaconess Medical Center in the early 1990’s. The merger of Billings Clinic and Deaconess Medical Center of Billings in 1993 was one of the first mergers in that era of formally merging a physician multispecialty group practice and a not-for-profit community governed hospital.
Nick served as chief executive officer at the Billings Clinic from 1997 to 2017. While CEO he developed a vision to perform at best in nation levels in patient safety, quality, and service. During his tenure, the Billings Clinic became the largest healthcare organization in Montana. Billings Clinic grew to manage eleven critical access hospitals, five of which have joined the organization in formal governance relationships. Under his visionary leadership, Billings Clinic also developed a major priority to support outstanding rural health care, early adopter approaches to behavioral and mental health care delivery, incorporating evidence-based design and healing environment principles into facility design, and the use of complexity concepts such as positive deviance and relational coordination to improve safety performance and team performance. Billings Clinic also led advances in medical education and leadership programs for physicians, nurses, other professionals and staff. Billings Clinic launched the first Internal Medicine Residency in Montana in 2014 with a focus on general adult medicine including practice in rural communities. During Nick’s tenure, numerous third-party recognition and honors in these areas were received by Billings Clinic. Nick was extremely proud to work alongside each and every Billings Clinic employee over his 35 years of employment there.
Nick’s impact extended far beyond Montana. He was a former member of the board of the American Hospital Association (AHA) and of the American Medical Group Association (AMGA). He served two terms as a commissioner on the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), in addition to twice serving as chair of the board of the Montana Hospital Association. In 2004, Nick was recognized by the Medical Group Management Association as Physician Executive of the Year. He was named by Modern Healthcare as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare in 2010 and 2011, and by Modern Physicians as one of the Most Influential Physicians in Healthcare in 2011 and 2012. In May 2018, Nick received the Justin Ford Kimball Innovators Award from the American Hospital Association (AHA) for his innovative work to establish Billings Clinic as an integrated physician-led, multispecialty group practice focused on patient safety, quality, and service.
Nick is survived by the many people who loved him and laughed with him, including his children, Megan (Ben) Zatz, Ellen (Nate Knoernschild) Wolter, Keith (Teresa Knoedler) Wolter, and Annie (Chris) Hondorf; his grandchildren, Zach, Hannah, and Oliver Zatz; Isaac, Charlotte, and May Knoernschild; Bergen and Iris Wolter; and Nola Hondorf. He is survived by his sister, Martha Eaton, and also by Marcia Britton, Rose Brown, and LaToya Kirkland and many other beloved extended family, including the Mikkelsens, the Brittons, the Wolters, the Andersons, and the Moss’. Nick was preceded in death by his brothers, Carl, Paul, and Mark Wolter; mother, Marjorie (Mikkelsen) Douglass, father, Richard Wolter, and step-father, Jesse Douglass.
Nick was a kind, gentle, and unforgettable father, friend, and advisor to so many. Nick immeasurably impacted the lives of those who loved him. He guided and cared for his family and friends with fierce devotion, wisdom, and humor. He approached the world with his unassuming curiosity and a twinkle in his eye. With Nick’s passing, we celebrate his love of art, literature, and loud, loud music. His truly original spirit will live on in all who were lucky enough to know him.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to any of the following funds at the Billings Clinic Foundation: Healing Environment, Cystic Fibrosis, Internal Medicine Residency Endowment, or the Psychiatric Residency Endowment.
A celebration of Nick’s life will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 13, at the Billings Clinic Commons (801 North 29th Street, Billings, MT 59101.)
“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.” The Rolling Stones.