Leadership amid turmoil
Price provides a steady hand during executive, board turnover
David Price, a lawyer, joined the board of directors of Community Hospital in January 2006 just as the organization was careening toward failure. Within a year of his arrival, the top executive of the Grand Junction, Colo.-based hospital quit; a vice president was elevated to president and CEO, and the chief financial officer left shortly afterward. In spring of 2007, the CEO and the chief medical officer began a co-management arrangement, which fell apart almost immediately, culminating with the decision of the board in July 2007 to fire both of them.
As if that wasn’t stressful enough, the board in 2007 also disclosed voluntarily to HHS’ office of the inspector general possible violations of federal anti-kickback statutes for such deals as medical-office space leased to physicians at below market value.
In December 2007, three board members resigned, leaving the board without enough officers to run meetings. Since no one else wanted to fill the leadership vacuum, Price volunteered to serve as board chairman and subsequently helped lead a turnaround of the ailing hospital.
For his accomplishments, Price, 52, whose term on the board expired in January, has been selected as the 2012 Trustee of the Year for a small hospital—those with fewer than 100 beds. Community Hospital currently staffs 46 beds.
The first step toward stability under Price’s leadership occurred in January 2008, when the board of trustees hired Quorum Health Resources, a hospital management company. Chris Thomas, a Quorum employee, arrived in Grand Junction as the permanent president and CEO in April 2008.
As Prices explains, the hospital’s board members realized “that we needed some help and some folks that had national expertise.”
The board also overhauled the hospital’s governance structure. Before the change, the medical staff appointed all trustees and approved all major decisions. For example, the medical staff approved the decision to hire Quorum. “You had to convene a meeting of the medical staff and garner a majority vote, which was extremely cumbersome and expensive,” Price says.
Under the new structure—which the medical staff approved in a 66-9 vote—the board selects its own members, develops the hospital’s overall strategy and approves major decisions. Physicians hold five of the board’s 12 seats.
In another move to clean up past mistakes, the hospital reached a settlement with the OIG’S office in May 2009. It agreed to pay a fine of $420,175—much less than the total potential fines of $19 million. The hospital also spent $1.5 million in legal fees and hired a fulltime chief compliance officer.
Community Hospital also revamped its anesthesiology services. “We had an anesthesiology department that was totally dysfunctional,” Price recalls, primarily because a number of unrelated, independent anesthesiologists ran the service. The board replaced those physicians in May 2008 with a single group practice comprising a number of the anesthesiologists who had been working at Community Hospital’s competitor,
308-bed St. Mary’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center.
The board also has been planning for the future. It inked a deal with Colorado Mesa University to sell the hospital’s eight-acre downtown site in stages for a total of $7.1 million. The phased process allows Community Hospital to gradually build new facilities on a 30-acre site it owns on the outskirts of town. The university, also downtown, plans to build dormitories on the hospital’s current site.
Price, a skilled consensus builder, helped the board reach agreement on important decisions, Thomas says.
“He is very inclusive. I watch him at board meetings pulling in the members who are new members or trying to balance the outspoken members to make sure everybody has a chance to give input,” Thomas says. “He orchestrates, but he is not domineering.”