Bartlett Regional Hospital has yet another chief executive officer — its third in less than two months, and eighth since early 2021 — after the board of directors took the unusual step of interviewing him, debating his hire and then unanimously selecting him in open session during its meeting Tuesday night.
Ian Worden, who’s worked primarily as an administrative and/or financial manager in health-related fields for more than 40 years, was selected despite questions raised about the hasty process and possible staff reaction to yet more turnover in the hospital’s tumultuous leadership situation. But board members generally agreed they were impressed with his resume and his online interview during Tuesday’s meeting.
“It kind of bothers me that I only have one choice, but he does seem like a good choice,” said board member Brenda Knapp. She said while salary and other logistical issues need to be specified and brought to the board by the hospital’s senior management “I trust your collective judgment up there about what needs to be brought to us. And I would say let’s move forward.”
Worden was most recently chief operating officer for Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, headquartered in Tacoma, Washington, until taking a sabbatical beginning in January of 2022 for COVID-19 related reasons. He replaces Nate Rumsey, who was named acting CEO in August following the resignation of David Keith less than a year after he was appointed to the position, in the wake of a months-long crisis involving staffing shortages and allegations of inadequate care of behavioral health patients.
The decision to seek another interim candidate besides Rumsey, leading to a few senior Bartlett officials meeting Worden before Tuesday’s board meeting, came after a meeting by the board last month, said Board President Kenny Solomon-Gross. He said during Tuesday’s meeting “I feel like I was tasked by this board to bring an interim CEO with a vast knowledge of healthcare experience.”
“I hope that Nate will continue to be part of our team in some senior leadership role,” Solomon-Gross said. “I believe, though, that we have some structural changes in our organization that are going to need some deep breadths of experience in health care…I believe that Ian, with his experience and his breadth of knowledge, and what he comes to us within the healthcare realm, is really going to help us move forward to our next step, to really get to where this organization needs to be.”
Solomon-Gross said he expects Worden to begin the job within a month, assuming the official details are worked out, and stay for a period of nine to 12 months. The board president said he also expects Worden will be involved both in the management of the hospital and the search for a permanent CEO.
Worden, prior to his most recent job, was chief operating officer of CHI Franciscan Health from 2015 to 2021 before it merged with Virginia Mason. He also was executive vice president and COO for 12 years of St. Vincent Health System, a 23-hospital system in Indiana, and chief financial officer at PeaceHealth in Eugene, Oregon, for five years.
Worden, after being introduced to the board Tuesday evening, offered a multi-point strategic plan for issues he hoped to address at the hospital and his approach for doing so.
“In terms of my leadership I like to say everyone has a role on the team,” he said. “And the most important role, I think, for a CEO as well as the teams is to project hope and confidence. It’s pretty hard for people to feel comfortable and safe in their practice if the leadership team isn’t focusing on how to provide them with the things that they need in a very hopeful and confident manner.”
When asked about the most important thing to do first if named interim CEO, Worden said “the care and feeding of clinicians.”
“I need to get in there and understand what are the issues that physicians have, as well as clinicians have, either with the hospital leadership team or vice versa,” he said. “So kind of understanding what those issues are, because it’s going to be hard to move forward unless we’re working on making sure that everyone can work together.”
One of the most direct questions came from Lindy Jones, a doctor at the hospital for 30 years and board member who brought much of the hospital’s current crisis into the public spotlight by alleging “inhumane treatment” of behavioral health patients was occurring that put others at the hospital in harm’s way. The doctor asked Worden what direct experience he has in “one of the biggest challenges we’ve got going.”
Worden said he has had to respond to issues similar to Bartlett’s because Washington ranks 48th among states in mental health services, with one of the biggest problems being psychiatrists who are reluctant to work as inpatient employees. He said there also were “a lot of the behavioral issues related to the homeless and drugs that cause a lot of problems.”
“So we had the development of patient intake to make sure that the police had a way to treat patients who had to be here in the behavioral health system before it became a legal issue,” he said. “But having said that, one of the toughest issues I think you’ll ever find in most of the communities is that nobody wants to spend the appropriate level of money on the services for these patients, and psychiatrists and clinical psychologists are very hard to find.”
While the answer wasn’t a simple or complete solution, it was enough for Jones.
“I think that’s an honest answer, thank you,” he told Worden.
Such responses are what persuaded other board members expressing some reservations about the quick hire to ultimately offer their support.
“We’ve just come through a really trying time where our staff have been upset,” said board member Lisa Petersen. “I mean, we lost a CEO for pretty nefarious reasons. I think (Worden’s) got integrity. And anybody who knows me knows that that is one thing that impresses me.”
Bartlett has cycled through numerous CEOs — and other top leaders — during the past few years.
The retirement of Chuck Bill in early 2021 after six years as CEO resulted in Chief Financial Officer Kevin Benson serving as interim CEO until Rose Lawhorne was named the permanent replacement in the spring of 2021. However, she resigned and was then fired by the board after an inappropriate personal relationship with a subordinate staff member. Kathy Callahan briefly came out of retirement to fill the position until Jerel Humphrey was named interim CEO while the search for a new permanent leader was conducted. That led to the hiring of Keith in the summer of 2022 and his subsequent resignation on Aug. 1 of this year.
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at email@example.com or (907) 957-2306.