Leaving a Legacy – Bayhealth says Goodbye to Kilma


Released by Bayhealth Medical Center

He developed a $13-million community hospital into a $400-million regional health system. He shepherded downstate Delaware’s largest health care organization into a new era. And, he helped ensure that many generations of future Delawareans will continue receiving the best possible care during their most difficult hour.

Bayhealth Inc. President Dennis Klima has retired following 31 years of service.

“Nobody has left a greater legacy than Dennis Klima. Through Dennis’s leadership, Bayhealth is equipped to serve our growing community for many future decades,” said Wayne Holden, who served as Chairman of the Kent General Hospital and Central Delaware Health Care Corporation boards of directors.

“Our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will all have access to better medical care at lower costs thanks to Dennis. It is under his guidance that Bayhealth has evolved to serve patients who need highly specialized care such as heart surgery and Level 3 Trauma care. It is also through his leadership that Bayhealth Medical Center has instilled a culture of transparency, honesty and integrity,” said Holden.

Tom Burns, who served on the CDHCC and Bayhealth Inc. Board of Directors from 1988 through 2007, notes that Dennis Klima led Bayhealth through the most challenging economic climates and ensured that Kent General Hospital and Milford Memorial Hospital continued to thrive following the merger of both community hospitals into Bayhealth Inc. in 1997.

“Through Dennis’s leadership, both Milford Memorial Hospital and Kent General Hospital strengthened their service to their respective communities and retained their unique identities while creating a regional medical center. We’ve never lost our sense of community,” said Burns.

Burns credits Klima with ensuring Bayhealth maintained financial stability without compromising care during recession and economic downturns.

“Dennis never reached beyond the hospital’s means, never sacrificed quality of care for financial expediency and made the ‘right’ decision for the long run so many times,” said Burns.

Since his arrival as Executive Director (President & CEO) of Kent General Hospital in 1980, Klima’s prescience, wisdom and leadership have guided decisions that will impact the community for many future decades. In addition to leading the historic merger of Kent General Hospital and Milford Memorial Hospital, Klima also spearheaded Bayhealth’s affiliation with Penn Medicine for Cardiovascular Services, Oncology and Orthopaedics. Klima oversaw the development, planning and opening of Phase I construction at Kent General Hospital which included a three tower addition to the “1986 building” and serves as the foundation for Phase II construction that will include a new Cancer Center, Emergency Department and Welcome Pavilion. Klima also initiated the planning for a new replacement hospital for Milford Memorial Hospital that will allow it to better serve a growing population in the Milford area. Klima’s leadership led to the implementation of central Delaware’s first cardiac surgery program, the first inpatient psychiatric unit (ADAPTS), the first medical walk-in clinic, the first Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and first hospital-based fitness facility at Lifestyles’ Fitness Center. Klima was the guiding force behind Bayhealth’s affiliation with the Planetree Model of Caring which emphasizes a patient-centered environment for healing.

Dennis Klima was born July 23, 1944 in Chicago, Illinois. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor of Science in Finance in 1966 and earned his Master of Hospital Administration from Duke University in 1968. Klima entered the United States Navy as a Lieutenant Junior Grade (Ltjg) and served for three years at Bethesda Naval Hospital and the Department of Defense. During his service, he helped the U.S. Navy develop the prototype for a new generation of military hospitals. Upon completion of his military service, Klima became Administrator of Duke University Eye Center and then ascended to Associate Administrator of The Memorial Hospital at Easton, Maryland.

Klima served six and a half years at The Memorial Hospital before learning of a unique opportunity in Delaware to become Executive Director of Kent General Hospital. Klima recognized it was a chance to develop health care to serve a growing community. The Kent General Hospital Board of Directors recognized that Klima, an experienced naval officer, was the “best captain” to guide the small community hospital into the future.

On August 4, 1980, Dennis Klima began his distinguished career at Kent General Hospital.

“From the first day in 1980, I benefited from an exceptional team. There were a lot of intrinsic rewards working in health care and at Kent General Hospital. In particular, it was so rewarding to work with so many talented people who helped us shape the future,” said Klima.

Klima credits the executive team, the physicians, the clinical staff members, the volunteers, and the members of the central Delaware community for their tireless efforts to improve their community hospital and help it to grow to meet the evolving health care landscape.

“They’ve all made a difference in how well we deliver care to the population we are serving. So many people had so many different roles but they have all worked together to make our hospital better and to make our community healthier,” said Klima.

According to Klima, no hospital administrator in 1980 could have envisioned the profound changes in health care during the next three decades. Nobody could have foreseen how a small Delaware hospital utilizing film X-rays would become a regional health center which utilizes robotic surgery and doctors from world-class teaching hospitals. However, the key was anticipating growth and preparing the hospital to meet the community’s needs.

“We’ve never lost sight of how important our hospital is in keeping our community healthy but also in being an important economic engine,” said Klima who notes that Bayhealth Medical Center employs nearly 3,000 people and is one of central Delaware’s largest employers.

While shepherding Bayhealth’s growth into the new millennium and a new era has been astonishingly rewarding, Dennis Klima is now ready to bow out to savor retirement with his wife Sandra, son Edward, daughter Kimberly and his three grandchildren. Klima will continue to serve the community through his service with the Executive Boards of WSFS Bank, Kent County Economic Partnership, Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce and the University of Delaware. He plans on writing, mentoring, boating and “hitting the golf ball” but has no plans of quietly fading into the sunset.

“My family has been part of this community in many ways and we look forward to continuing for the foreseeable future. Thanks to so many supporters and so many dedicated people at our hospitals, the future looks very bright,” said Klima.