Hospital COO is surprised to hear of ‘resignation’
Steve Salyer, who in a year and a half as the second-in-command at Indian River Medical Center was credited by many staffers and local physicians with greatly improving operations at the hospital, was told to his surprise last Thursday that he was resigning, effective that very afternoon, to “pursue career opportunities,” according to informed sources.
Neither hospital CEO Jeff Susi, who announced Salyer’s “resignation” in a cryptic late afternoon email to IRMC staff, nor Salyer returned multiple calls from Vero Beach 32963 seeking comment.
But as word of the unexpected departure of IRMC’s chief operating officer spread though the Vero Beach medical community, it was met with shock and disappointment by many on the hospital staff, as well as by independent doctors with privileges at the hospital.
Doctors, staff and others who spoke to Salyer earlier on the day of his “resignation” said that he had talked about upcoming plans at the hospital, including himself in them, suggesting that he was unaware he was about to resign.
Further, they said, when Salyer cleaned out his office and left the hospital later that day, he refused to respond to questions from several colleagues asking if he had resigned.
“That makes us think he didn’t want to lie, but, like the former chief financial officer and others who have left, he knew to keep quiet or his severance pay would be canceled,” said a doctor, who asked not to be named.
“As word spread about Steve leaving, nurses were crying in the hallways,” a doctor said. Another doctor called to say: “It is really depressing to lose the person who was fixing things.” Yet another said: “We are all asking one another, ‘Without Salyer, now what?‘”
In his memo, Susi said “Steven Salyer has resigned as Chief Operating Officer identifying a desire to pursue career opportunities in larger organizations where he sees greater opportunity for advancement. We appreciate his time and service and wish him well.”
The memo then went on to assign those who had reported to Salyer to other members of the hospital’s management. It said IRMC would now conduct a nationwide search for a new COO.
Salyer’s abrupt departure came on the heels of an article in Vero Beach 32963 which said that physicians and others in the healthcare community viewed IRMC’s hiring of Salyer as a definite plus because of numerous improvements he made in the 19 months he served as COO.
While the hiring, which came shortly after he resigned as CEO of Sebastian River Medical Center, resulted in a breach of contract lawsuit by Sebastian’s parent company, many IRMC doctors and staffers believed Salyer’s hiring – even with the settlement IRMC had to pay – was worth it because of Salyer’s dedication to turning the hospital around.
As word spread over the weekend that Salyer was out, calls, texts and emails came into Vero Beach 32963 from local healthcare professionals expressing dismay over the news. Yet none wanted their names included in this story for fear of repercussions.
“Unfortunately,” said one doctor, “many of us have learned that we will be the subject of ridicule and become ostracized if we speak up.”
An IRMC staffer who called Vero Beach 32963 to express her disappointment over Salyer’s leaving said that hospital employees frequently asked Salyer to write a how-to booklet on what it took to turn around the hospital and make it a nice place to work.
His response, she said, was: “It’ll be a very short booklet. Just care; that’s it.”
In a questionnaire that preceded his hiring at IRMC, Salyer wrote that he believed in “servant leadership,” which he described as “supporting and helping the people who work for you in every way possible.”
A year after Salyer became COO at Indian River Medical Center, 75 percent of employees participated in an employee engagement survey, as compared to 57 percent the year before. Also, efficiency in surgery greatly improved, wait times in the emergency department decreased most of the time even while overall patient volume increased dramatically.
“Before Steve, most of us thought, ‘Why bother?’ But he gave us hope,” said one staffer.
“He was always interested in hearing what didn’t work so he could take steps to make it work, and that was different from what we were used to,” said another staffer.
In the past two and a half years, the hospital has seen a number of changes in leadership positions, including the chief financial officer, the chief nursing officer, the chief operating officer, the personnel director, the Indian River Medical Associates director, the emergency department management team and the medical chief of staff.
Susi, 63, the one constant in hospital leadership, celebrates 17 years as Indian River Medical Center CEO this month, and has said he plans to stay on for seven to 10 more years.