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Interim hospital CEO focused on operations

Photo: Interim CEO of the Indian River Medical Center, Karen Davis.

A committee of nine hospital officials has selected as interim CEO a woman who, by at least one account, appears to be a hands-on healthcare powerhouse.

Karen Davis, a University of Alabama graduate in nursing and healthcare administration with a long career in healthcare finances and operations, is taking over at Indian River Medical Center for Jeff Susi, who retires at the end of December.

Davis will oversee a staff of 1,700 at the hospital, and she will try to keep afloat a medical center that has been financially adrift – at times taking on water – for much of Susi’s 19 year tenure.

 “She’s very impressive,” said Marybeth Cunningham, part of the committee that selected Davis. All nine members had a chance to interview her along with two other candidates.

“I think it’s great that she’s an RN by profession so she understands that part of the medical profession. She’s very focused on operations. That’s what she loves,” said Cunningham.

“In the interview, she talked a lot about how she likes to be [on the patient floors] at 5 a.m. and at 11:30 at night.”

Davis will assume the interim CEO position as the hospital continues to seek a financially strong healthcare company with which to partner. Despite her strong credentials, she is expected to lead only until a partner is selected to assume control of the hospital’s management.

The decision to give up on having an independent stand-alone community-owned hospital – the status quo here for some 70 years – began to take shape in late January after IRMC posted a first-quarter $4 million loss. That was quickly followed by the announcement of Susi’s retirement.

“Things are really moving along,” said Cunningham, who chairs the publicly elected Hospital District Board of Trustees and initiated the move to consider a drastic change in hospital governance.

The District owns the hospital buildings and property; Davis will oversee the separate non-profit company that runs the hospital.

It was Dr. Wayne Hockmeyer, chairman of the board of that management company, who pored over the CVs of a dozen candidates for the interim CEO post who were recommended by a Chicago consulting firm, Spencer Stuart.

That firm was first hired to find a full-time CEO to replace Susi. But the search was halted when it seemed a partner would be found quickly and would want to install its own leadership.

“They suspended the search when we decided to go forward with finding a partner. It didn’t make sense at that time,” said Cunningham. “But once we started that process, it became clear we needed an interim CEO, and we went back to Spencer Stuart.”

Susi’s tenure ends Dec. 31. Davis’ start date was being negotiated at press time but board members hope there will be overlap with Susi’s remaining weeks, Cunningham says.

Davis spent the bulk of her 35 years in the healthcare industry with HealthSouth, rising to president and COO of its diagnostics division, overseeing 127 imaging centers across the country.

She also has CEO experience: she ran Metro West Hospital, a relatively small facility in Framingham, Mass., and served as interim CEO at several others.

She also spent time in Saudi Arabia consulting on healthcare operations in Jeddah.

Davis currently works as a senior director out of the Atlanta office of Alvarez and Marsal, a large healthcare consulting firm, the same firm hired to give IRMC a “top-down” assessment in 2014.

Cunningham expects that Davis will retain a relationship with Alvarez and Marsal through her time at IRMC. She says the likelihood is “fairly remote” that a new partner would keep Davis in the post rather than install a CEO of its own choosing.

The timeframe for a partner assuming control of IRMC is around a year from now, Cunningham estimates.

That means that Davis has a year to make the most of her expertise at IRMC – without worrying about job security, Cunningham points out.

“Bringing in somebody who knows they’re not staying can really be a set of fresh eyes,” said Cunningham. “And they’re not necessarily looking to impress anybody.”

On Friday, Nov. 16, the proposals of as many as a dozen prospective partners will be publicly discussed in depth and voted on by hospital and district officials to narrow the field to between two and six finalists.

Juniper Advisory, a Chicago-based investment banking consultant that deals exclusively with hospitals and healthcare, will be leading the discussion. That group will analyze the proposals that are submitted by this    Friday’s deadline, and compare them to the list of strategic objectives that hospital officials and district board members came up with last summer.