By Jim Johnson, The Monterey County Herald
SALINAS, CA – July 24, 2014 – Natividad Medical Center CEO Harry Weis is abruptly leaving his post after spending eight years spearheading a financial turnaround at the Monterey County-owned hospital.
Weis' exit comes with Natividad in the midst of implementing a trauma center program, engaging in an ambitious capital improvement plan and adjusting to the challenges of health care reform — and as Monterey County considers a potential partnership with Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital.
Monterey County announced Weis' departure, effective on Friday, in a brief news release on Wednesday. The release quoted Supervisor Dave Potter, who has served on the Natividad board of trustees for most of Weis' tenure, saying the Board of Supervisors "is grateful to Mr. Weis for his dedicated service as CEO of Natividad Medical Center, a role he assumed after serving as a member of the Huron consulting team instrumental in the hospital's dramatic turn-round in 2007. The Board of Supervisors and Hospital Trustees will focus on continuing to support the hospital's medical and administrative leadership team in meeting the challenges of healthcare reform and establishing Natividad as the premiere trauma center on the Central Coast and thank Mr. Weis for helping usher in this new era. The remaining executive team, which assisted in the turnaround, will continue to successfully manage NMC during this transition."
The statement went on to say the supervisors expect an interim CEO will be appointed on Monday and will offer "temporary leadership" while the county conducts a "thorough executive search" for a new CEO.
In an attached statement, Weis said he had "elected to leave Natividad and pursue other healthcare options and opportunities in the exciting and emerging post-healthcare reform environment."
Weis thanked county residents for the opportunity to serve at Natividad for nearly eight years as a consultant and CEO, and said he was proud of the hospital and its staff for achieving a "historic financial turnaround and its promising future as the Central Coast's premier safety net hospital and first trauma center."
He also touted a range of hospital upgrades made during his tenure, including new and improved service lines, nearly $50 million in capital investment such as adding a new family practice residency clinic and expansion of the D'Arrigo Family Specialty Services program, performance improvements in core measures and patient satisfaction, the addition of rapid medical evaluation in the hospital's emergency department, and more.
"It is with bittersweet emotions that I depart," Weis said, "and I wish the county nothing but the best in pursuing its strategic vision."
Weis did not return a phone call from The Herald.
Potter told The Herald that Weis' departure was a "pretty amicable separation," and included "mutually agreed upon" terms spelled out in his contract, which paid him about $445,000 per year. Weis will be paid 18 months severance, including accrued vacation and other benefits, for a total payout of about $700,000.
By contrast, Salinas Valley Memorial CEO Pete Delgado is now paid about $625,000 after getting a recent raise.
The supervisor said the board is "comfortable" with Natividad's management team and he didn't expect any major changes in the hospital's direction, though he added, "we're all anxious to get appropriate leadership in place in his absence."
Former Natividad board chairman Roy Robbins, who resigned with two other board members earlier this year, said he wasn't surprised by Weis' departure, especially given the challenges of operating under the restrictions of the county's bureaucracy.
Robbins praised Weis' leadership and credited him with restoring the hospital's financial viability without any county subsidy.
He also expressed concern about the county's succession plan, noting the county had been criticized for running through a series of top administrators in the years before Weis' arrival.
Weis came to Natividad with the Huron-Wellspring consulting team hired in 2006 to guide a multimillion-dollar rescue effort paid for by Salinas Valley Memorial and Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula after the hospital lost $25 million in a single year and nearly closed its doors. He served as the hospital's chief financial officer during Huron's consultancy and remained as CEO after the firm left two years later.
A few years later, Natividad posted a record $13 million profit amid implementation of a multiyear strategic initiative aimed at improving the hospital's financial and operational efficiency.
Last year, Natividad proposed an affiliation with Salinas Valley Memorial in response to the public district hospital's quest for a potential partner, but was rejected, and then beat out its Salinas-area rival for the prized trauma center designation.
Meanwhile, county and Salinas Valley Memorial officials quietly began affiliation talks last summer, and county officials are still considering a response to a Salinas Valley Memorial partnership proposal submitted earlier this year that envisioned the formation of a joint powers authority to run the county hospital.