Just a little more than two years after being named chief executive officer (CEO) of Lincoln Health System (LHS), Candie Starr departed the county-owned, nonprofit last week, following a closed session of the system’s board of trustees.
Monday morning, health system officials announced that William R. (Russ) Spray will assume the role of interim CEO, effective Sept. 3. Until then, Bob Lonis, LHS chief financial officer, will serve in a dual role as CFO and interim CEO.
The chain of events began to unfold Tuesday evening as the LHS Board of Trustees called a special executive session, which was closed to the public and the newspaper as system officials cited personnel issues as the reason for the meeting. By late Wednesday morning, the board announced “the departure” of Starr, effective that same day.
“Lincoln Health System’s focus during this period of transition is, as it always has been, to provide quality health care to our community and a stable working environment for our employees,” said Anthony Taylor, LHS Board of Trustees’ chairman, going on to add that the board is actively pursuing a replacement.
Dr. Theresa Morrison, also a member of the LHS board, was on the agenda to provide an update on the health system during Tuesday evening’s meeting of the Lincoln County Commission, but she did not appear.
Starr was named to the position in July of 2017, after the dismissal of former LHS CEO John Harding in late February. Harding had been named to the position in September of 2015. Harding had succeeded Jamie Guin, who had served in the positon since 2012.
Taylor, nor other local officials, would confirm whether Starr was dismissed or if she resigned her position; however, according to sources, the state comptroller’s office is reviewing questions related to the payment of a relocation fee of approximately $17,000 to Starr. Health system officials have said that Starr did provide a local address, but questions have been raised regarding the relocation and documentation.
A native of Lincoln County, Russ Spray has 40 years’ experience in healthcare leadership, including a near three-year stint as CEO of LHS from 2009 to 2011. Under his leadership, LHS experienced one of its most profitable times in recent history, said LHS officials, adding that his leadership strengths include quality and patient safety, physician recruitment and retention, and employee engagement and development.
In addition to his time with LHS, Spray has also led the following Tennessee hospitals: Southern Tennessee Regional Health System Winchester-Sewanee, Tennova-Harton in Tullahoma, and River Park Hospital in McMinnville.
Spray holds a master’s of business administration degree with an emphasis in healthcare administration, from Southeastern Institute of Technology in Huntsville, Ala., and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville.
“Lincoln County will always be a special place to me,” he said. “Both my wife and I were raised there, and we still own property there today. I am honored that the board of trustees would consider me and trust me to lead the health system during this time of transition.”
Spray will lead LHS for an expected period of up to six months while the organization aggressively works to recruit a permanent CEO, officials said.
As part of the Tennessee Rural Hospital Transformation Program, LHS was selected and awarded a grant in June from the state, which provided them with the services of Navigant Consulting, Inc., a nationally recognized healthcare consulting firm.
Taylor said Monday that the report has been completed and remains under review by the LHS leadership team and the board.
“The consultant’s report contains a listing of strategic and operational initiatives designed to help the hospital transition to a sustainable business model,” Taylor said. “The areas of focus include orthopedics and women’s services, physician recruitment and retention strategies, case management and revenue cycle opportunities, profit and loss monitoring, governance, reputation management and repair, real estate divestment, and telemedicine service line expansion.”
Lincoln Health System (LHS) is a county-owned, non-profit health system located in Fayetteville, Tennessee. The health system’s humble beginnings began back in 1916 when the area’s all-female Alpha Kappa Club made it their mission to lobby for a much-needed hospital in Lincoln County. In less than 12 months, the vision became a reality and Lincoln County Hospital opened its doors on April 25, 1917. One hundred years later, Lincoln Health System is still serving the community. LHS consists of a 49-bed acute care hospital, an ambulance service, a long-term care and skilled care facility, a home health and hospice agency, and a freestanding outpatient rehabilitation and wellness center. For more information about Lincoln Health System its facilities, medical services, and physicians, visit www.LincolnHealthSystem.com.