A person departs Bartlett Regional Hospital on July 26, a day after a board of directors meeting raised issues about the hospital’s leadership and quality of care, with then-CEO David Keith resigning a week later. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)

A person departs Bartlett Regional Hospital on July 26, a day after a board of directors meeting raised issues about the hospital’s leadership and quality of care, with then-CEO David Keith resigning a week later. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)

New Bartlett CEO has lots of experience with mergers, transitions as hospital confronts struggles

Meanwhile former CEO still getting paid for post-resignation ‘transition’ despite leaving the state.

Ian Worden may only be the head of Bartlett Regional Hospital for a short time, but he oversaw some huge transitions at hospitals in other states — including a merger at his most recent job in the Seattle area. He’s been on a COVID-19 initiated sabbatical since January of 2022, but is being asked to step in and quickly resume taking on big tasks as Bartlett faces a multitude of staffing, treatment and financial challenges.

Meanwhile, former Bartlett CEO David Keith is continuing to get paid during a 90-day “transition” period following his resignation Aug. 1, despite leaving Juneau several weeks ago and being absent from official business including board meetings.

Worden was hired as Bartlett’s interim chief executive officer during an unusual board of directors meeting Tuesday night, despite reservations expressed by some members about their lack of knowledge about him and uncertainty resulting from ongoing frequent leadership changes. The interview with him via Zoom, debate about hiring him and unanimous vote to do so — pending official details such as compensation — all occurred within about an hour while the board was in public session.

He is the hospital’s eighth CEO since January of 2021 and third in the past two months following Keith’s resignation in the wake of various problems at the hospital being raised publicly by other officials.

New CEO recommended by an out-of-state ‘partner’

While Worden’s quick interview and hiring raised some eyebrows among board members on Tuesday, it was actually the culmination of a process that began in late August, according to Erin Hardin, a spokesperson for the hospital, in response to questions from the Empire.

He worked most recently as the chief operating officer at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health — and the same role at CHI Franciscan Health for six years before it merged with Virginia Mason in 2021 — and thus was on the radar of top Bartlett leaders when they began their search for Keith’s replacement.

“Virginia Mason and Bartlett have a longstanding professional relationship going on 25-plus years, including agreements for physician support and professional services,” Hardin wrote. “Officials from Virginia Mason Franciscan Health were invited by then-CEO David Keith to visit Juneau to discuss our ongoing partnership — this visit occurred in late August and Mr. Worden was an attendee.”

Bartlett Board President Kenny Solomon-Gross, at Tuesday’s meeting, said “we kind of reached out to them and told them exactly where we’re at.” He said Virginia Mason offered a number of suggestions, including hiring Worden as a long-term interim CEO rather than a placeholder for weeks or a few months.

“I made sure that his resume was in the (board meeting) packet today,” Gross told the board as he introduced Worden. “So I hope everybody got a chance to look at it because it comes with a wealth of experience in the healthcare field.”

In addition to his years at the Seattle-area hospitals, he spent 12 years as the executive vice president and COO for St. Vincent Health System, a 23-hospital network in Indiana. A press release upon his departure and hiring by Franciscan Health stated “as the chief operating officer of the largest healthcare system in that state, he drove it from a financially struggling operation to the most profitable regional system in Ascension Health, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S.”

Worden’s experience with such large-scale actions prompted a Bartlett board member to ask “how you would work here in Juneau with us — and also our competitor, who is very real — in order to keep us viable.” That was an apparent reference to SEARHC which, like Bartlett, has recently been significantly expanding its facilities and services — however Bartlett has also sustained significant financial losses during periods over the past year.

“It’s competing for the hearts and minds of your clinicians, competing with new services, competing with location,” Worden responded. He emphasized “the best way to compete is to compete by getting physicians,” which has proven a formidable task for Bartlett and other employers in Alaska suffering crisis-level workforce shortages.

In addition, morale problems among employees have been raised by several board members and other hospital executives, due to issues related to staffing shortages, allegations of poor quality care for some patients, and high turnover among leadership.

Worden’s salary and starting date have not been officially determined, but Solomon-Gross said he expects the new CEO to start within a month, and remain in the job for nine to 12 months while the search for a new full-time CEO is conducted.

Former CEO still getting paid

Keith, who living in Oklahoma prior to coming to Juneau, received a $400,000 annual salary when he was officially named Bartlett’s CEO on Aug. 15, 2022, $80,000 more than the previous full-time CEO Rose Lawhorne upon her appointment in the spring of 2021.

Keith agreed to stay for a 90-day transition period after submitting his resignation on Aug. 1 of this year. But he departed the state weeks ago and is not shown as participating in a board meeting after his resignation was accepted Aug. 4 — including an Aug. 15 meeting when Nate Rumsey, the hospital’s executive director of business development and strategy, was named the initial acting CEO.

Hardin, referring to a statement issued by Keith calling his departure a “retirement,” stated Wednesday the transition period is still officially in effect.

“In David’s retirement announcement he shared his ‘hope for the future is that there’s stronger unity between the Assembly and the Board about the strategic direction of the hospital,’” Hardin wrote. “Mr. Keith’s compensation was unaffected; he continues to be available for consultation to our senior leadership team.”

Also resigning at about the same time as Keith — and agreeing to a 90-day transition period — was Chief Financial Officer Sam Muse, who is still actively working at the hospital. Hardin stated no decision has been made about a replacement for that position

“The hospital has been actively recruiting for a CFO, and interviews have been held with several interim and permanent candidates,” she wrote. “An offer has not yet been made.”

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

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