Highsmith steps down as St. Luke’s CEO; trustees appoint new leadership

Published 11:31 am Friday, April 3, 2009

Effective April 4, John Young, regional Vice President with CHS, and Alex Bell, vice president of Cleveland County Hospital, will provide leadership for St. Luke&squo;s during the search process for a new CEO.

St. Luke&squo;s Hospital Board of Trustees signed a management agreement with CHS last July after a yearlong search to affiliate with a larger, financially stable healthcare provider. CHS is the largest non-profit hospital manager in the country and the third largest public system in the nation, with 25 affiliated facilities in North and South Carolina.

&dquo;I believe it&squo;s time for a fresh look and a new vision to help move St. Luke&squo;s forward as a financially viable acute care hospital for this community,&dquo; Highsmith said. &dquo;I made this decision with full confidence that the leadership and support from the CHS team will help produce results that will significantly benefit our hospital and community.&dquo;

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Highsmith joined St. Luke&squo;s Hospital in 1993 when the Board of Trustees was faced with tough decisions about the hospital&squo;s ability to remain open and serve the community. Under Highsmith&squo;s command, St. Luke&squo;s Hospital successfully overcame threats of closure as improvements and new services were implemented. Another financial blow hit the hospital when the federal government passed the Balanced Budget Act, and like many hospitals across the country, St. Luke&squo;s was again facing financial difficulties.

Guiding the board and medical staff, Highsmith led the hospital through Critical Access designation, a strategy that secured higher Medicare reimbursement for a rural hospital with a high mix of Medicare patients. Highsmith also led the hospital board through the affiliation agreement with CHS.

&dquo;As a small hospital, we had no leverage with large insurance companies. We needed better buying power, and we needed support to grow and market our services in order for

St. Luke&squo;s Hospital to withstand the effects of today&squo;s economic downturn,&dquo; Highsmith said. &dquo;We have that through CHS. I did what I wanted to accomplish, and now it&squo;s time to move aside so that continued change for the future will occur.&dquo;

Young met with St. Luke&squo;s staff to assure employees that CHS would provide support and leadership following Highsmith&squo;s announcement. Young also said he will provide assistance to the Board during the search for a new CEO.

&dquo;Cameron is to be commended. He has a deep commitment to this facility,&dquo; Young said. &dquo;He has done a tremendous job here at St. Luke&squo;s and we plan to honor his service with a reception to wish him well in his next venture.&dquo;

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, Chair Susan McHugh added, &dquo;We are extremely grateful for Cameron&squo;s leadership over the past 15 years. During much of his tenure, Cameron was challenged with financial hardships facing all healthcare providers, but under his leadership and with support from our community, St. Luke&squo;s Hospital continues to provide exceptional care, close to home.&dquo;&bsp;&bsp;