A Henderson, Ky., hospital executive has been tapped to become the new head of Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center.
J. Wayne Meriwether, currently chief operating officer at Methodist Hospital in Henderson, will replace current hospital CEO Stephen Meredith, who is retiring after more than 35 years at TLRMC.
Meriwether’s hiring was announced Monday afternoon.
During a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon, Meriwether said he’s excited to be coming to Leitchfield.
“I wasn’t really looking for a job when I heard about the position,” he said of the Leitchfield opening. But as a Kentucky native he was interested in a job that would allow him to stay in the state and move into a different level of healthcare management.
The hospital — and the community — sold themselves during the interviewing process, Meriwether said. “Once I started the interviewing process, I could tell the people there were really nice.”
The hospital received 100 applications for Meredith’s position. A Louisville search firm helped narrow the field to nine candidates, who were reviewed by a local hiring committee. Of those nine, five were initially invited for in-person interviews but one withdrew from the process.
The remaining four were interviewed, and Meriwether and Celse Berard, president of Riverview Hospital in Wausau, Wis., were selected as finalists.
While he was happy to receive the offer from Twin Lakes, Meriwether said it left him with “a tough decision to make” — leaving friends, co-workers and a community he liked for something new. In the end, the opportunities offered here drew him to Grayson County.
Meriwether said he’s been in healthcare his entire career, working at Methodist for several years. He spent 19 years as director of materials management for the hospital, implementing group purchasing contracts, automating supply distribution and cutting costs on service agreements among other achievements.
Several years into his career his mentor, Dr. John Logan of Henderson, told him he had the potential to do more, Meriwether said. After thinking about his goals, he decided to head back to college to obtain his master’s degree in healthcare administration.
Meriwether said he continued to work full-time at Methodist while attending classes at the University of Southern Indiana in nearby Evansville.
“I also had two fairly young children then,” he said. “Every night I’d come home, have dinner with my family and then head down to the basement to study.” He credits his wife, Carol, with shouldering some extra duties on the homefront to allow him the time to work on his degree.
Also during that time, he was promoted to COO at Methodist, Meriwether said, adding that made for a couple of “intense” years as he juggled the sometimes conflicting responsibilities of work, home and classes. He earned his master’s from USI in 2008.
As a COO, Meriwether said he’s focused more on the operations and support services of 217-bed Methodist. As CEO of the 75-bed Twin Lakes, he’ll have a more “global” responsibility, focusing on all aspects of the hospital from patient care to finances to support services and future growth.
He said one of the biggest challenges he’ll face is one facing the entire healthcare industry: the impact of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly called “Obamacare”).
“You can look at this in a negative or a positive manner,” Meriwether said, adding he chooses to look at it positively.
“It’s not very often in your career that you can affect change in a positive manner to help change a whole system,” he said, explaining that the new healthcare law will ultimately mean more emphasis on wellness and disease prevention instead of disease treatment.
Local hospital leaders stressed Meriwether’s contributions to Methodist’s growth and his community involvement in making the announcement of his hiring.
During his tenure at Methodist he orchestrated a 130 percent growth in it’s swing bed program, they noted. The swing bed program allows a hospital, with federal government permission, to operate a skilled nursing program to help hospital patients transition through a recovery phase. Patients designated for this level of care are allowed to “swing” from acute care to skilled care when they need additional services before returning home or going to a rehabilitation unit.
They also noted his work with the Community Patient Safety Coalition of Southwestern Indiana/Kentucky on patient safety efforts, and his involvement on several boards for non-profit groups in the Henderson area.
Meriwether said Wednesday he expects to start at the local hospital in early January. He’ll initially be on his own here: his wife will remain in Henderson through the spring to allow their daughter, a high school senior, to graduate with her class. The couple also has a son, who is attending the University of Kentucky.