Hospital Picks Chief Executive Officer to Secure Future of Medical Complex; Announces Plan to Build New Facility

By JOSHUA SABATINI

A new era promising a brighter future in the wake of yearly fiscal woes has dawned at Martha's Vineyard Hospital, as the hospital's board of trustees last week approved a new chief executive officer and a plan for a possible $30 million project to construct a new hospital facility.

The hospital board of trustees voted unanimously at its July 26 meeting to appoint Tim Walsh as the hospital's new CEO. Mr. Walsh had been serving as interim CEO since April, when Kevin Burchill, his predecessor who came on board in October 1999, resigned.

Board of trustees chairman John Ferguson publicly announced Mr. Walsh's appointment Saturday morning at a hospital forum held at the Island's regional high school.

"We are so happy [Mr. Walsh] will lead the institution into a whole new era," said Mr. Ferguson. "He will take it, build it and do wonderful things."

"I want to thank the search committee and the board for their show of support and confidence they have in me to take the hospital and lead it into the future," said Mr. Walsh. "I think we are in a great spot right now with a lot of things coming together setting us up for a better future."

Mr. Walsh said he understands the hospital has had its share of problems in the past, but feels his leadership can make a significant difference.

For two years, Mr. Walsh was involved in the finances of the hospital and Windemere Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center. He began his tenure at the hospital as chief financial officer in June 2000. Before coming to the Island's hospital, Mr. Walsh had served as vice president of finance at Boston's Carney Hospital since 1984.

In a press release, Mr. Ferguson said Mr. Walsh's tenure at the hospital and Windemere had resulted in "a level of fiscal health that had eluded both institutions for far too long."

But Mr. Walsh's performance as interim CEO was instrumental in the board's decision, Mr. Ferguson said.

The executive search firm Korn/Ferry International had been hired by the hospital to help find the right candidate for the position. Korn/Ferry recommended Mr. Walsh, as did a hospital search committee, which was charged with finding a candidate who understands the operations of a small rural hospital and its role in such a unique community as Martha's Vineyard.

"Folks want the assurance that [the hospital] can be here for the long haul, provide top-quality medical care, be financially viable in this crazy health-care climate, and be attentive to and respectful of the community's needs," said Tim Sweet, chairman of the search committee and vice chairman of the board of trustees, in a press release. "These are issues that carry equal weight, and we haven't done a great job at balancing those challenges."

Mr. Walsh's "no-nonsense style" suits the hospital well, Mr. Sweet added.

The board of trustees voted unanimously to pursue plans to construct a new hospital, in hopes of modernizing the facility and also addressing existing financial concerns.

According to a strategic financial plan prepared by the national certified public accounting firm Feeley & Driscoll, a new facility "would present the opportunity for increased operating efficiencies and give the organization greater flexibility to manage costs."

Mr. Walsh said his top priority is getting a plan together to deal with the facility's poor conditions. "The hospital needs a new facility," said Mr. Walsh. "The layout is very inefficient."

Mr. Ferguson said he hopes a new hospital could be constructed in stages on the site of the present hospital.

The board will next take two steps, said Mr. Ferguson. One, he said, is to launch a feasibility study to determine whether the $30 million could be met through fundraising. At first glance, he said, it appears fundraising can satisfy the project's cost.

The second step is to send out a request for proposal to architects and planners for drafting a plan of the facility. Mr. Ferguson said these two steps will be taken simultaneously.

With the new CEO and the possibility of a new facility, Mr. Ferguson said, staff morale is very high. He said that when Mr. Walsh was introduced to the hospital staff as the new CEO he was greeted with a standing ovation.

In terms of the hospital's financial picture, Mr. Ferguson said the hospital is budgeted to run $700,000 over in operation costs this year, but expects that number to come out closer to $500,000.

As in past years, he said, the hospital will use gift money to offset the deficit. But he hopes next year the hospital will at least break even so all gift money could be used toward the construction of a new facility.

Mr. Ferguson said the board is tackling the issues at the hospital "piece by piece," and he expects additional changes over time. "We won't let anything get in our way of moving ahead," he added.

As part of the Saturday morning forum, seven recently hired physicians were introduced to the community. Mr. Walsh said the new physicians are a good first step in paving the way for a bright future at the hospital as they bring an "enhancement to the medical staff."

"I'm really pleased that it's worked out this way," said Mr. Walsh. "I'm grateful that the board has the confidence in me to pull us through these changing times, and I appreciate the support from the community, the doctors and the staff.

"We want to demonstrate that crisis management will become a thing of the past for this institution."