Hospital CEO Departs; Financial Officer Takes Interim Leadership Post

By JULIA WELLS
Gazette Senior Writer

Despite announcing last month that he would stay on until his contract runs out in October, the chief executive officer at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital made an abrupt exit this week after hammering out a severance agreement with the hospital executive committee.

Hospital CEO Kevin Burchill cleaned out his office and was gone by the end of the day on Tuesday.

"The board and I have come to a mutual understanding; it is probably best for me to make this transition now rather than later," Mr. Burchill said.

"The lame duck situation - it never does work out that well, and this is not an unusual thing at all," said hospital board chairman John Ferguson. "We wanted to get on with what we needed to do and Kevin wanted to get on with what he needed to do."

"We decided it would be best for all parties involved," said Tim Sweet, who is vice chairman of the board of trustees.

Hospital trustees issued a one-paragraph statement on Tuesday about Mr. Burchill's departure. Mr. Sweet met with hospital staff yesterday to formally announce the news. He and Mr. Ferguson said hospital chief financial officer Tim Walsh will take over as interim CEO.

Mr. Burchill's severance agreement with the hospital includes a guarantee on his current salary for the next 12 months. Mr. Burchill is paid $220,000 a year.

Mr. Burchill announced his intended resignation at a hospital forum in late March. The announcement followed weeks of uproar in the Vineyard community over Mr. Burchill's noisy clash with Dr. Richard Koehler, a leading surgeon at the hospital.

Dr. Koehler will also now leave the Vineyard in July to take another job.

Mr. Burchill's three-year contract with the hospital runs out in October. If Mr. Burchill is employed before the end of the 12-month period, any salary he earns will be subtracted from the amount the hospital pays him, Mr. Ferguson said.

Mr. Ferguson said the severance agreement was crafted using a clause in Mr. Burchill's contract that gave him one year of salary if he was dismissed without cause.

Mr. Ferguson said he does not characterize Mr. Burchill's departure as a dismissal: "A dismissal? No, it is truly not a dismissal. Kevin decided he had had enough and we decided this would be best," he said. Mr. Ferguson also said the severance package is not excessive.

"It's not a windfall, it's to keep a person whole and it follows the terms of his contract," he added.

Mr. Burchill concurred.

"It was my decision to leave. Transitions are often difficult on individuals and organizations and in order to ease the transition of this organization, this is a better approach," he said.

Mr. Burchill, who came to the hospital in October of 1999, said this week that he leaves the hospital in sound financial shape, reiterating his own list of accomplishments over the last three years.

"I came here with a set of goals and tasks and they are done. In the first term of my contract I accomplished everything I set out to do, and I am not looking for external rewards or gratification. The work in terms of beginning to rebuild this place has been accomplished. It's a good time to leave," he said.

"Whether I leave in April or in October, I think I have positioned this organization to move forward, and, as we have said many times, I am not going to stand here looking in the rear-view mirror," he added. "I leave the place at a good time, personally and professionally. And it's time to move on."

Mr. Sweet agreed.

"The professionalism Kevin has brought allows us to make the transition without it being catastrophic. We feel very secure because of Kevin's hard work and we are in good hands," he said. "I think we are in a better place for having had Kevin there."

Mr. Burchill said he will leave the hospital but not the Vineyard, and will continue living in West Tisbury with his family while he pursues other career interests. He said he is exploring a wide range of professional opportunities in the field of health care, including consulting, management and law. Mr. Burchill has degrees in law and health care administration.

Mr. Ferguson said a special hospital board meeting will be held April 27, with the single purpose of naming a search committee and selecting an executive search firm to find a new CEO for the hospital.

"My best guess will be that it will take at the most six months - in three to six months we should have a new CEO," said Mr. Ferguson, who is longtime CEO at the Hackensack (N.J.) University Medical Center. Mr. Ferguson took over as board chairman in March, replacing former chairman Fred B. Morgan Jr. Mr. Morgan also quietly resigned as a hospital trustee this week.

Mr. Ferguson said the board hopes to include representatives of both hospital doctors and the community at large on the search committee, and spoke briefly about the qualities the board hopes to find in a new CEO.

"We are looking for the qualities that Kevin had - plus," he said. "We are looking for someone who knows the business and you also need a person that can bring all the constituencies together - the doctors, the staff, the community and the donors."

Mr. Ferguson said the immediate goals of the board include getting back to a plan that was on the front burner three years ago - building a new hospital.

"We need to figure out what form that will take and we need to get everyone behind it," he said, adding: "In a community like Martha's Vineyard the resources are there, it's just a matter of people feeling good about where the money is going."