KETCHIKAN, Alaska — The chief executive of Ketchikan Medical Center is leaving his post after 11 years.

Pat Branco has accepted a job as president and CEO of community hospitals for Duluth, Minn.-based Essentia Health Systems.

Branco will be responsible for two hospitals, eight clinics and four physical therapy centers for the system in central Idaho in his new position, the Ketchikan Daily News reported ( ). His resignation is effective Aug. 13.

"The difficult part will be leaving Ketchikan Medical Center. My work here has been the very best professional and personal experience of my life," he wrote in his resignation letter.

During his tenure in Ketchikan, Gov. Sean Parnell named him to the Alaska Health Care Commission, and he has served as the Alaska delegate to the American Hospital Association's Regional Policy Board.

Last year he was honored by the American Hospital Association as the "Grassroots Champion" for his advocacy of patients and community hospitals.

He also oversaw the hospital's federal designation to "critical access hospital" from acute care, meaning the hospital was able to earn more revenue.

"That was some hard work," he said.

The newspaper reports the Ketchikan Medical Center was named one of the nation's top 100 critical access hospitals in 2012 and 2013.

He also recently secured $15 million in state funding for an expansion project at the Ketchikan facility.

The Alaska Legislature approved the money for the first phase of the expansion project. Ketchikan residents will vote Oct. 1 on a $43 million bond proposition to finance the remainder.

He's confident voters will support the project.

"I felt as though I couldn't leave until we got this last step from the governor signing (the $15 million appropriation)," he said. "I don't need to be here for the ribbon-cutting."

While he finds it difficult to leave Ketchikan, the move to the Lower 48 will allow him to be closer to family, he said.

Branco will work with PeaceHealth and the hospital's governing board to find both an interim and a long-term replacement, the hospital said in a statement.