David Keith, right, an Oklahoma hospital leader who is among the three finalists for the CEO position at Bartlett Regional Hospital, chats with Bartlett board members Hal Geiger and Kenny Solomon-Gross during a meet-and-greet Friday at the Andrew P. Kashevaroff Alaska State Library, Archives and Museum. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Hospital holds 3rd CEO candidate meet and greet

David Keith meets folks for the last in a series of three.

David Keith, after retiring as the CEO of an Oklahoma hospital and pondering a run for politicial office, said he’s now envisioning prolonging his decades-long medical career as the new CEO of Bartlett Regional Hospital 15 years after departing Alaska following nearly a decade of service in the state.

Keith is the third of three CEO candidates participating this week in public meet-and-greets and interviews with Bartlett’s board of directors as the hospital tries to find a permanent leader after more than two years of interim overseers and a short-lived permanent one who was fired after an inappropriate personal relationship with a subordinate staff member.

Keith was the president and CEO of McAlester Regional Health Center, Oklahoma, until January of this year, when he retired and assumed his current title of chief strategy officer (with one of his primary duties consisting of “providing transitional and consulting support to the new CEO”). He said he can see serving as Bartlett’s CEO for “four or five years” and, in his meet and greet Friday at the Andrew P. Kashevaroff Alaska State Library, Archives and Museum, noted the average hospital CEO tenure is actually shorter than that.

“I can guarantee you I can give you four years, and I can accomplish a lot in those four years,” he said.

Keith said among the top areas his skills could be an asset to Bartlett are in economic and strategic management. His top listed achievement as CEO at McAlester is “transition(ing) a financially challenged hospital, achieving year-over-year profitability over a 10-year span.” He also highlights a large physical expansion of the emergency department, and expansion of numerous patient-related programs and upgrading administrative functions.

Keith also has some blemishes, including an admitted violation of rules in 2020 by awarding a contract for janitorial and linen management services without competitive bidding. In an interview earlier this month Keith said the violation was due to unclarity about the rules, which he and other hospital officials worked with state lawmakers to alter.

Some people in the relatively liberal city of Juneau may question his political views about health care since earlier this year he said he was considering running for the Oklahoma Legislature this fall as a Republican. The state is among those banning abortion in recent weeks, but also enacted Medicaid expansion measures praised by many hospital leaders — and Keith noted he was part of a hospital group that supported public and legislative effort to enact the latter policy.

His previous Alaska experience includes being the chief operating officer Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium/Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage from 2000 to 2004, and subsequently serving the assistant administrator at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage until 2008. He cited one of his biggest achievements at the latter as assisting “in a complex multi-million-dollar land exchange between the hospital, local university, state and Municipality, to secure land for the largest campus growth since 1990.”

When asked about Bartlett’s strengths and weaknesses, Keith cited strengths as community support, an engaged board and being well-equipped for the services it offers. He noted it faces the same challenges as many hospitals nationwide in hiring and retaining staff, and coping with ongoing issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic. He said among the strategies he would seek in terms of staffing is ensuring strong training and retention of employees.

He also admitted a personal shortcoming when his role calls for being a public figure.

“I don’t always respond to the public in a way they want me to,” he said, adding it means often being deliberative before he does so.

The other candidates are:

Jeffery Hudson-Covolo, vice president for patient care services and chief nurse executive of Sierra View Medical Center in Porterville, California, since January of 2014. He was among the initial three finalists selected earlier this year, but the search was extended when the other two candidates dropped out for what they said were personal reasons.

Dennis Welsh, vice president for rural health transformation and executive director of the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center in Chestertown, Maryland, since April 2021. He along with Keith, were among six candidates subject to preliminary interviews before the initial top three were chosen.

Keith will be interviewed by Bartlett’s board Saturday and deliberations about the three candidates will likely occur the same day, said Kenny Solomon-Gross, the board’s president. He said it’s possible a favorite will be chosen — or not — but the subsequent action will be notifying the preferred candidate to see if he will accept the position, or letting hospital officials know additional candidates will need to be recruited if none are preferred.

“There will not be any white smoke coming from the tower tomorrow,” Solomon-Gross said.

Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at Mark.Sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

David Keith, right, an Oklahoma hospital leader who is among the three finalists for the CEO position at Bartlett Regional Hospital, chats with Bartlett board members Hal Geiger and Kenny Solomon-Gross during a meet-and-greet Friday at the Andrew P. Kashevaroff Alaska State Library, Archives and Museum. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

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