Jefferson Hospital is looking for new leadership.
Steve Widener, the hospital’s administrator, has retired. Hospital Authority Chairman Ray Davis said Widener had been discussing his retirement from Pioneer Health Services, the management company the authority contracted with in June 2013, for some time.
When Pioneer Health took over management, the hospital’s finances were dangerously upside-down. Widener was the first interim CEO and helped Jefferson Hospital navigate through the initial restructuring. In that first year, the hospital saw about a $1.3 million improvement.
Widener returned as interim CEO after the death of Doug Arbour, the hospital’s first full-time administrator. He returned again in September 2015 to take over from retiring CEO Jim Heitzenrater.
For the past year, Widener has served as the hospital’s administrator, even after the authority voted to sever ties with Pioneer in early July. Widener told Jefferson County officials three months ago that while Pioneer had filed bankruptcy in the spring, it had not been a visible presence at Jefferson Hospital for some time.
Around 200 residents filled the county courthouse in July to discuss the future of the hospital and its request for nearly $1.2 million in new taxes to support operations. The county agreed to fund the hospital’s operations through the end of the year with plans to put a 3 mill tax increase before voters in the spring.
In the meantime, the hospital stopped all contracted payments to Pioneer except for the invoiced expenses for Widener’s salary, travel expenses and cellphone.
“There continues to be sparring between our attorney and Pioneer with regards to getting out of the contract and who owes who what because of the performance within the contract,” Davis said recently. “There continues to be the possibility of having to take action inside the structure of the bankruptcy, and we’re trying to avoid that because it leads to litigation and general consensus is that it’s better to settle outside litigation than inside litigation. However, the settlement numbers are going to take a little while.”
Though Widener offered to remain through Oct. 27, Davis said the authority elected to accelerate his retirement, effective immediately.
“We became unable to separate his Pioneer interests from his Jefferson Hospital interests,” Davis said. “The management agreement asks (the administrator) to do an impossible thing, and it’s impossible in the Scripture as well, and that is to serve two masters … We reached irreconcilable differences.”
In addition to withholding the $30,000 a month in administrative costs to Pioneer, Davis said the hospital has also taken back its medical billing from the management company.
The authority has obtained the names of three potential replacements for Widener. Though Davis feels it would be difficult for the board to make a final decision in less than a month, he said that it does plan to come to a consensus as quickly as is feasible.
“To the best of my knowledge they are all only interested in interim positions but really, that’s kind of what we need right now,” Davis said.
In the meantime, he said that the organizational authority for operations rests first of all with Matt Clark as the chief financial officer, then with Stacey Smith as the director of nurses and then with Jessica Guy in administration.