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What comes next?

Finding a new leader to replace the outgoing MedWest-Haywood President Mike Poore could take months and will be handled by Carolinas HealthCare Network rather than the local hospital board.

Carolinas HealthCare System, a Charlotte-based network of 34 hospitals that MedWest-Haywood joined two years ago, will conduct the search and vet applicants. The MedWest-Haywood board will make the final pick from among two or three finalists.

Finding a replacement who can navigate the complicated structure of MedWest may take time, according to John Young, the vice president for Carolinas HealthCare’s western region.

MedWest-Haywood is one of three hospitals under the MedWest banner, along with MedWest-Harris in Jackson County and MedWest-Swain.

Until recently, Poore had served as the CEO of all three hospitals plus the overarching MedWest partnership — in effect four organizations.

“He has taken on multiple roles in a complicated situation,” said Dr. Benny Sharpton, a member of the Haywood hospital board.

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Poore had to balance the wishes of three medical communities, answer to the individual hospital boards plus the joint MedWest board — all the while reporting to his primary boss of Carolina’s HealthCare.

“This is not the place for a new CEO,” Young said.

Earlier this year, however, Poore was reassigned. He was stripped of his CEO status over all of MedWest and pulled back to his former role as president of MedWest-Haywood only.

Meanwhile, MedWest-Harris and Swain were given their own president in Steve Heatherly, who had been in Harris management for 15 years.

The management shuffle was aimed at placating dissention among some Jackson County doctors who felt Harris was not getting the attention it needed from Poore under the new MedWest venture. Harris has been faring worse financially than MedWest-Haywood and had seen a growing loss of patients to Mission, while Haywood’s market share has inched back up.

Failure to fix concerns raised by the Jackson medical community could potentially threaten the MedWest joint venture. When the joint venture was launched, an escape clause was built into the contract at the three-year mark, which comes up next year.

Young said dissolving it would be bad for both hospitals.

“The real issue from my perspective is simply we are better together,” Young said. “When you put the hospitals together, you have enough market share and enough demographics to be able to compete for primary and secondary care with Mission way better than any hospital could by itself.”

The hope is that MedWest-Harris and MedWest-Swain would get more attention under their own CEO than they could have gotten from Poore as CEO of the entire system.

How long the hospitals will remain under separate leadership isn’t clear. Ultimately, there needs to be a CEO over the entire MedWest venture, Young said. Having a president for each hospital plus a top CEO results in a “pretty hefty salary load,” Young said. So ideally, the president of either Haywood or Harris would serve in a dual role as CEO over the whole entity.

But, it is unclear when a return to joint leadership may occur. And, that complicates the hiring of a replacement for Poore.

“This is not the best moment for us to be looking for someone because we have this bifurcated approach,” Young admitted.

Young said there is no easy way to get through this “awkward moment.”

Given the complexities, an interim president will most likely be appointed while a permanent one is found. If the interim leader proves their mettle, they could be asked to stay, however.

“So we need as robust a search for an interim leader as a permanent one,” Young said.

For now, Young will serve in a transitional capacity while a search is conducted for an interim president.

“This organization has had enough change,” said Young.

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