It was the middle of the night when Larry Mills was struck with how important his job can be. His father had to be taken to the hospital and his mother was confused about the situation, struggling to understand everything the health care providers were telling her.
Wanting to comfort his mother, Mills went to the hospital’s lobby to retrieve a brochure that helped explain the medical treatments her husband was receiving. In a stressful time, it provided at least a little bit of comfort.
“Healthcare is scary when you come in as a patient or a family member,” Mills says. “There’s that unknown of not knowing what’s going on with your family member in that room.”
For the past 18 years, Mills has been the supervisor of Printing Services at Regional Health, a network of hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and other medical facilities located in western South Dakota and stretching into Wyoming. Before becoming supervisor, Mills spent seven years as the Rapid City, SD, in-plant’s lead printer.
Though he and his staff of two employees do not work directly with patients, Mills explains that part of what drives him in his work is knowing that he can provide something tangible that can comfort families in their own times of need.
“We can provide medical information to patients or families,” he relates. “That makes me feel like I’m doing a good job because maybe I helped out a family member understand a procedure better. That’s what’s given me a lot of drive over the years.”
Long before he entered the printing industry, Mills had an affinity for ink on paper. He explains that his great-grandfather was a letterpress typesetter, so he had heard about the print world from a young age. He also grew up next door to a cousin on his father’s side of the family who worked locally as a web press operator. As a kid, Mills would watch the presses in action and was fascinated by the process.
His first work in the printing industry wasn’t quite like running a press though. Soon after finishing high school, he learned that a nearby commercial shop called Grelind Printing needed help moving to a new location. Mills offered his services, and as luck would have it, he was kept on by the company.
“I started out doing bindery work and it just went from there,” Mills says. “I started taking some courses here and there on my own. They also sent me to a couple of the Heidelberg operational courses. I thought at that point, ‘This is something that interests me’ and that’s why I went that way.”
Finding His Niche in In-plants
After taking the position as lead printer for Regional Health’s in-plant, Mills quickly learned that there are several substantial differences between the commercial and in-plant worlds. And, he adds, it’s in the in-plant world where he most thrives.
One of his skills as an in-plant manager is seeking out and implementing a more cost-effective approach to the various elements of printing, Mills says. While a commercial shop provides work based on a customer’s willingness to pay, in-plants actively seek to save money for their parent companies. Mills has enjoyed that challenge.
And while this may be considered one of the job’s biggest stressors, Mills says he welcomes the tight deadlines that often pop up at the in-plant.
“If it was normal, everyday, ho-hum print work, I wouldn’t be able to do it,” he admits. “But there are always deadlines, and on the internal part there’s always someone who needs something right away. This may sound twisted, but that’s what I thrive on.”
With a new CEO taking the reigns at Regional Health at the start of 2015, Mills says the in-plant has been tasked with printing new marketing materials and more wide-format work.
Under the new leadership, Mills says, Regional Health is making a strong effort to partner with the communities it serves. The marketing campaign has driven a great deal of work to the in-plant’s 64˝ Roland VersaCAMM printer, which has produced outdoor banners to display at Regional Health facilities as well as out in the community. Mills says he also expects to soon get into providing vehicle decals. Regional Health serves a large are a, and Mills says that making its vehicles more visible will help the company be more recognized in its communities.
“With the new CEO, I’m excited because it’s like a new day,” he says. “I know there are going to be new opportunities and new ways for us to step up and promote Regional Health.”
Because Regional Health does have so many facilities, Mills says he has also taken it upon himself to market his own services and the in-plant’s capabilities. He says he makes visits to the company’s many locations to explain how the in-plant can be a boon to the health care providers and keep them focused on patient care.
“It goes for all employees,” he says. “This is what we’re here to do. You don’t have to spend time worrying about a copier or printing. You can concentrate on your own job.”
Related story: New Digs, New Gear for South Dakota In-plant