The man who has led Intermountain Health Care since its inception 23 years ago and helped make it a medical services system whose methods are studied by health care organizations around the nation and the world is stepping down.

Scott S. Parker, chief executive officer of Salt Lake-based IHC and a member of its board of trustees, will retire from the nonprofit organization at the end of the year.At that time, Parker, 63, will turn the IHC reins over to William H. Nelson, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the past three years and recently appointed president.

It's hard to imagine IHC without Parker at the helm. He was named president of the organization on April 1, 1975, when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints divested its hospitals to a non-denominational, independent group of community leaders, asking only one thing in return: That they create a model health care system.

IHC was a gift from the church to the people of Utah that was, and remains to this day, unprecedented in the industry and still leaves Parker a little awe-struck when he thinks about it, particularly in an age when for-profit health maintenance organizations are becoming the rule rather than the exception.

For that reason, he and the IHC board of trustees have closely embraced that simple mission statement - create a model system - much as the Founding Fathers embraced the Constitution. It governs everything they do. So far, mission accomplished.

President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency of the church, was involved in the divestiture of the hospitals at the time and recalls then-Presiding Bishop Victor L. Brown telling members of the Council of the Twelve that he knew of a man named Parker who had a phenomenal record of success as a hospital administrator.

That man got the job, and President Monson has since followed Parker's career with admiration.

"He's a superb executive," said President Monson. "He has the ability to motivate and inspire others. He's always prepared, has a keen, bright mind, and he understands and likes people. He has staying power under stress and tends to be calm by nature. He also tends to be self-effacing; he has national and international awards, but he doesn't wear his medals on his chest."

President Monson also praised Parker's wife, Sydne, as a great source of strength for Scott. "A large part of his success has been made possible by the constant support of Sydne," said President Monson.

Parker could not have known just what he was taking on back in 1975 because no one could have foreseen that the nation's health care industry was on the threshold of the most turbulent, change-filled era in its history. The upheavals that have taken place in health care delivery over the past two decades have required many adjustments to IHC's business strategies, but not to its core mission.

"By always pursuing that goal of excellence, we validate the decision by those church leaders," said Parker. "And it keeps us focused in a way that nothing else could."

Cost-cutting has been the name of the health care game over the past 20 years as costs have outstripped overall inflation by a startling degree. IHC has had to play that game just like everyone else or risk being left behind.

But cutting costs hasn't meant cutting services. When Parker took the helm in 1975, IHC had 15 hospitals. Today it has 23 - the only nonprofit hospitals in the state - including nine urban medical centers and 14 rural centers. It also operates smaller clinics in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada.

It offers six separate health plans, has 22,000 employees (placing it among Utah's largest employers) 2,500 doctors and thou-sands of volunteers, including 500 citizen trustees. Gross operating revenues last year topped $2 billion, and IHC has spent more than $1 billion on expansion and remodeling of facilities since it was created.

It's a huge organization that Parker has helped create and will leave at year's end. But he has no plans to just kick back and go fishing. His retirement itinerary would tax the schedules of many full-time executives.

For openers, he intends to serve as a consultant to a group of organizations that are currently aspiring to become integrated health care delivery networks, following the IHC pattern. He also will remain a director on the boards of First Security Corp., Questar Corp. and Bonneville International Corp., all based in Salt Lake City.

Other ongoing board assignments include Multi-Mutual Insurance Companies, Chicago; First Consulting Group, Long Beach, Calif; and Healthcare Research & Development Institute, Pensacola, Fla. He'll also remain with the American Hospital Association, Chicago and Washington, D.C.; and the International Hospital Federation, London.

As President Monson pointed out, Parker is modest in assessing his accomplishments during his long tenure at IHC. He says he is most satisfied with being given the opportunity to pursue the original mission and helping to create the strategies to implement it. He gives major credit for IHC's success to the volunteer trustees, who serve without compensation, the doctors and the employees in the organization.

He also feels good about IHC's strong commitment to providing care for those who can't pay for it and have no insurance. Last year, IHC provided $26.7 million in direct charity care to 48,816 people and helped fund 114 community programs, many through IHC Foundation, an endowment created in the 1980s. Since 1975, IHC has provided some $185 million in charitable care.

Although Parker is reticent to discuss his honors, we are not. The American College of Health Care Executives awarded him its Gold Medal last year. Other honors include the American Hospital Association's Distinguished Service Award, the University of Utah's Distinguished Alumni Award, the National Kidney Foundation's Utah's Gift of Life Award, B'nai Brith International's National Healthcare Award, and last year he was inducted into the Institute of Medicine for the National Academy of Sciences.

Parker also intends to use his "retirement" to spend more time with Sydne and their four children and 10 grandchildren. He also wants to go back to the university and pursue classes in music, literature and language that he missed the first time around. He holds degrees in business from the U. and in hospital administration from the University of Minnesota.