Ian Worden, interim CEO at Bartlett Regional Hospital, presents an update about the hospital’s financial situation during a board of directors meeting on Tuesday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Ian Worden, interim CEO at Bartlett Regional Hospital, presents an update about the hospital’s financial situation during a board of directors meeting on Tuesday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Bartlett officials seek to extend interim CEO’s contract to end of year amidst financial crisis planning

Ian Worden took over temporary leadership in October; 39 applicants so far for permanent job.

This story has been updated with additional information about Bartlett’s financial status and planned public forums.

Lots of people are applying to be the next permanent chief executive officer of Bartlett Regional Hospital, but officials aren’t close yet to hiring any of them for what’s likely to be a rocky transition period involving cutbacks. As such, board members gave the go-ahead Tuesday for negotiations to extend the contract of interim CEO Ian Worden through the end of the year.

A total of 39 applications have been received so far, including three from Alaska residents and two others with ties to Alaska, said Deborah Johnston, vice president of the hospital’s board of directors, during a board meeting Tuesday night.

“Right now what’s happening is we have a staff committee that’s reviewing and doing the initial screening to make sure that the minimum qualifications have been met that we as a board have identified that we’re looking for in our candidates,” she said.

Initial screening interviews are scheduled to be done in a couple of weeks, after which “the heavy lifting for our committee will begin,” Johnston said.

“We are on pace with our target scheduling,” she said.

Worden, the hospital’s eighth CEO since January of 2021, was hired as the interim CEO effective Oct. 30 following the resignation of David Keith, who resigned as the most recent permanent CEO on Aug. 1 after less than a year on the job.

In an interview shortly after he started the job, Worden said he envisioned staying at the hospital for six to 13 months. Chad Brown, the hospital’s executive director for human resources, stated in a May 24 memo presented to the board Tuesday “it was anticipated that (Worden) would hold the position for roughly 3-4 months while we identified a new CEO.”

“Given that a new CEO has not yet been identified and Mr. Worden’s willingness to extend his time through the end of the year, BRH HR is requesting authorization from the board to review and amend his contract,” Brown wrote.

Worden arrived at Bartlett with more than 25 years of healthcare leadership experience, including presiding over mergers and other major transitions at institutions. His initial months at the hospital were spent addressing crises involving accusations of improper behavioral health care, staff shortages and low morale, and high leadership turnover.

An online job posting at the industry publication Becker’s Hospital Review states the Bartlett CEO duties include maintaining “a five-year strategic plan for the hospital that includes elements to continually improve financial stability, maintain infrastructure and anticipate capital expenditures.”

That will likely be a formidable challenge at the onset for a new CEO since much of Tuesday’s board meeting focused on proposals to eliminate or trim six “non-core” programs to help resolve a sizeable budget gap that Worden said will cause the hospital to run out of money within three years.

A press release issued by the hospital Wednesday states “Bartlett has not achieved an operating margin since 2019 and has been losing about $1M a month from operations since the summer of 2020.”

“The hospital needs to reduce the operating loss for core hospital programs within the enterprise fund by a minimum of $7M, or more if additional programs are retained, to achieve a reasonable operating margin to ensure the organization can continue to provide the necessary resources to deliver quality care to the community,” the release states. “Under the oversight of the Board of Directors and direction of the CEO, the hospital has begun implementing several process discipline methods to improve operational performance and has conducted a thorough review of its portfolio of programs.”

Tuesday’s review of the six targeted programs was in preparation for a joint meeting of the hospital board and the Juneau Assembly at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Assembly Chambers to discuss the matter.

Among the programs being evaluated are Rainforest Recovery Center, which provides residential and outpatient substance abuse treatment; Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy, which works with people ages 2-21 diagnosed with autism; crisis observation and stabilization services; outpatient psychiatric services; and hospice and home care.

The City and Borough of Juneau’s budget for the coming fiscal year starting July 1 — which includes funding the municipal-owned hospital — has tentatively been approved by Assembly members, with final approval scheduled at a meeting Monday night that will include time for public comment. However, Bartlett leaders said preserving some of the programs under scrutiny may involve seeking additional CBJ funds in future years.

Wade Bryson, the Assembly liaison to the hospital board, said during Tuesday’s meeting it appears the amounts that could be requested are high enough an increase in the mill rate would need to be considered, which means hospital officials will need to make a strong case.

“The majority of the community is asking us to reduce the taxes, reduce property tax, not raise it,” he said. “So if there are real things that Bartlett’s going to need in terms of real mill rates to be able to continue funding very important things that you are doing you’re going to have to reach out to both Assembly members and talk to them in preparation for next year’s budget cycle, but you’ll also need community members on board.”

Public feedback is being sought by the hospital at community forums scheduled Tuesday, June 4, and Monday, June 10, both starting at 5:30 p.m. at the hospital’s administrative building, according to the hospital’s press release. Virtual participation option will also be available.

Comments can also be submitted via the hospital’s website or in writing to the BRH Board of Directors at 3260 Hospital Drive, Juneau, AK 99801. Comments must be received by 4:30 p.m. June 19, with the board scheduled to review community feedback and make recommendations on non-core programs at its June 25 meeting.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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