O'Keefe was hospital unions' choice to replace Weis
By Jim Johnson, The Monterey County Herald
SALINAS, CA – July 28, 2014 – Natividad Medical Center board chairman Dr. Kelly O'Keefe has been appointed the county-owned hospital's interim CEO by the Board of Supervisors in the wake of the departure of highly popular former CEO Harry Weis.
O'Keefe's appointment, announced by County Counsel Charles McKee after a two-hour closed session during Monday's special meeting, is subject to agreement on a contract, which could be finalized as soon as Tuesday. The board has scheduled a special 4 p.m. meeting for Tuesday to announce an agreement.
The appointment followed calls from hospital employee unions and community organizations for O'Keefe to be chosen to replace Weis rather than a high priced consultant firm, Alvarez & Marsal, which culminated in a demonstration before Monday's meeting and heated testimony during it.
O'Keefe, 66, said he was surprised and "extremely gratified" by the public support, and vowed to dedicate himself to continuing the hospital's critical role in the community and the level of high quality health care honed under Weis' leadership.
Supervisor Lou Calcagno, the board chairman, said O'Keefe was "mentioned right up front" as a potential replacement for Weis, whose departure was announced last week amid disputes over his pay and the hospital's direction, as was Dr. Gary Gray, Natividad's chief medical officer. But Calcagno said the board wanted a backup plan in case neither man was available, and that prompted the proposed agreement with Alvarez & Marsal that was hastily withdrawn on Friday after public outcry.
The board interviewed O'Keefe and Gray during Monday's closed session, according to Calcagno.
On Monday, Natividad physicians, medical staff and others broadly criticized the supervisors for Weis' departure, calling it a "catastrophic mistake" and "suspicious," and complained about being left out of the loop. They praised Weis for restoring the safety net hospital to financial health and creating a new culture at Natividad, and called for O'Keefe's appointment.
Natividad chief of staff Dr. Jim Hlavacek, a 15-year hospital veteran, called Weis the best CEO he had ever worked with and said hospital staff would "follow Harry over coals with bare feet."
Dr. Valerie Barnes, who has worked at Natividad for nearly three decades, said Weis had "set the bar the highest I've ever seen," and said she hoped the hospital wouldn't "start to spiral down again."
Prunedale activist and supervisorial candidate Ed Mitchell told the board there was no reason for such secrecy involving Weis' departure and urged the board to be more open about the future direction of the hospital.
O'Keefe said he expects to take over as CEO very soon, but said it was too early to decide whether he would be interested in seeking the permanent CEO position.
The Pacific Grove resident has served on the Natividad board since 2009 and took over as board chairman earlier this year when former chairman Roy Robbins and two other hospital trustees resigned.
O'Keefe serves as CEO of Marina-based health care software firm AdaCS, Inc. and as medical director for Community Health Plan, a Monterey-based non-profit health care services organization.