A management shake-up at Providence Health Care sends Dr. Andrew Agwunobi to a new corporate role as vice president of special projects and brings former Sacred Heart Medical Center chief executive Mike Wilson out of retirement to work as interim chief executive of Providence’s Eastern Washington operations. Those include Sacred Heart, Holy Family Hospital, and hospitals and care facilities in Colville and Chewelah.
The moves were announced Thursday afternoon and took effect immediately.
Wilson takes over during trying times in the health care industry. State budget cuts threaten to lop tens of millions of dollars from hospitals and some of the financial uncertainties of federal health reform leave medical providers big and small trying to piece together a profitable business model.
Wilson and Agwunobi were in meetings Thursday and unavailable for comment, said spokeswoman Sharon Fairchild.
She said no other leadership changes are anticipated.
Agwunobi was hired in March 2008 from Florida, where he administered the state’s Medicaid program. He’d also been CEO of Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.
Wilson worked for Providence for 27 years and was a management fixture at Sacred Heart with deep ties to local physicians, insurers, policymakers and employees. He retired in April 2009 as Providence prepared to pare its management staff.
Agwunobi intends to remain in Spokane with his family and work out of a home office while taking on his new role spanning Providence hospitals in five states, Fairchild said. A news release described his new job as helping senior Providence executives in Renton understand emerging health care trends, best practices, and future challenges and opportunities.
His three-year tenure at the helm of Providence’s operations in Eastern Washington was marked by change and consolidation.
In October 2009, Rockwood Clinic, once Sacred Heart’s most important source of patient referrals, rattled the medical community by aligning with Deaconess Medical Center under the common ownership of national for-profit hospital operator Community Health Systems Inc.
Agwunobi reacted angrily and an ugly split ensued. Several Rockwood offices, including the busy outpatient surgery center and cardiology clinic, were pushed from the Sacred Heart campus; both have relocated to the Deaconess campus.
In the aftermath of Rockwood’s sale, private practice physician clinics increasingly sold to or sided with one hospital system or the other.
Agwunobi is credited with helping to create a system that quadrupled the number of doctors employed by Providence Medical Group to 160, which includes pediatric specialists, orthopedic surgeons, primary care physicians and many others. It’s part of the hospital system’s push toward an integrated method of patient care.
“Andy has successfully integrated diverse ministries across the region, restructured and developed the physician organization and has developed a new (Providence Health Care) leadership structure,” Mike Reilly, chairman of Providence’s board, said in the news release.
Agwunobi said in private interviews and public appearances that the economic recession, cutbacks to government health care programs and the uncertainties of national health care reform would not alter Providence’s role in treating those in need. The financial numbers bear out that commitment: Sacred Heart and Holy Family provided $112 million in uncompensated care last year treating the region’s poor.
He also helped preserve the role of Inland Northwest Health Services as it weathered a legal fight with Community Health Systems. Providence now controls the board of nonprofit INHS, which runs St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute, Northwest MedStar air ambulance service and an electronic medical records network across the region.
But an effort to establish a new Providence cardiology center by purchasing two heart clinics was dropped after federal regulators expressed antitrust concerns. Providence and one of the clinics are still attempting to salvage a deal.
Wilson is expected to lend steady leadership as Providence conducts a national search for Agwunobi’s replacement. He’ll also take over Sacred Heart’s push to add 75 patient beds in an expansion proposal, which is before a judge after being denied by the state. The proposal has been contested by Community Health Systems.
Said Reilly, the Providence chairman, “Mike Wilson has been part of the Providence family for nearly 30 years, and we’re looking forward to his leadership during this transition.”