Why this hospital is scrapping its CEO position altogether

'It isn't very often you can say you are going out when everything is going really well,' CEO says

When Steve Burdick retires as CEO of 142-bed Providence St. Mary Medical Center and Providence Medical Group-Walla Walla at the end of the year, his positon won't be replaced, but Burdick is confident the organizations still have "a bright future ahead."

Providence Health & Services announced the move last week, which it said was part of a restructuring to reduce overhead to increase efficiency, direct additional resources to patient care, and "continue its mission of serving the poor and vulnerable."

"I'm the biggest piece of overhead in Walla Walla," Burdick told the Walla Walla Union‑Bulletin. "So it's fair the bureaucrat goes and the folks taking care of patients can continue to do that."

Burdick has been the CEO of Providence in Walla Walla since 2006 and has been with Providence for more than three decades. The health system said the medical center has "thrived" under Burdick. "Providence St. Mary has grown, is financially strong, and meeting or exceeding national benchmarks for quality, and patient and staff satisfaction," the health system said, noting that Burdick has also deepened Providence's community involvement and helped to expand access to mental health services.

Providence said that Lane Savitch—CEO of Kadlec Health System, which in 2014 became affiliated with St. Mary—will oversee Walla Walla operations next year. In addition, the health system said St. Mary's current senior leadership team of nurses, doctors, and other officials will have expanded roles that include accountability for the hospital's daily operations and the organization's role in the community.

Common challenges, hope for the future

Mary Kay Clunies Ross, a spokesperson for the Washington State Hospital Association, noted that many health systems around the nation are sharing executives between facilities in an effort to improve efficiency.

Burdick said the administrative restructuring makes sense in light of the financial pressures that St. Mary and other hospitals are facing. Burdick said that cuts to Medicare and Medicaid payment rates, "skyrocket[ing]" drug costs, a "tight labor market," and CMS' two-midnight rule have all made it a more challenging environment for hospitals. In addition, Clunies Ross said that the Affordable Care Act has put additional pressure on hospitals to increase efficiency.

Burdick said, "Providence St. Mary has a bright future ahead of it as it continues to grow to care for our community." He added, "It isn't very often you can say you are going out when everything is going really well ... This is a good time for me to step aside and leave the organization in the talented hands of the senior leadership team and medical staff" (Hagar, Walla Walla Union‑Bulletin, 10/5; Providence release, 10/3; Murphy, Becker's Hospital Review, 10/6).

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