Health system seeks masochist for CEO spot

Integrated healthcare delivery system seeks president and CEO. Must be able to hit the ground running in a high-pressure position and still focus on achieving long-term financial sustainability. System consists of five hospitals, 10 primary-care centers, two long-term care nursing sites, and other facilities, programs and practices. Must have experience managing an ailing public safety net system in a politically and economically shifting healthcare environment.

If you guessed this could be part of an job ad for Jackson Health System, whose president/CEO recently announced she will step down, you're right.

The best candidate must be a brilliant businessman or businesswoman who is a "superb masochist," according to Bob Dickinson, retired CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines and the head of a civic group that recommended a major overhaul of the health system.

Just what did he mean by "superb masochist?" I checked the resignation letter of the outgoing president and CEO, Dr. Eneida Roldan, for hints. If she were to update the job description for her successor, she would probably add a few lines to reflect her past year-and-a-half at the helm.

It might go something like this.


  • Experience operating in a politically charged environment.
  • Demonstrated ability to tolerate a high level of public scrutiny and a hostile work environment.
  • Exceptional verbal and written communication skills.
  • Strong interpersonal skills and ability to withstand seeing others constantly second-guess your management decisions.
  • Must be able to juggle input from 30 bosses you are professionally accountable to. These include the Public Health Trust (the governing board which consists of volunteer citizens), the mayor, a board of county commissioners.

It will surely give job applicants pause to learn that the outgoing president/CEO, who is leaving under a cloud not entirely of her own making, was touted as the "perfect person for the job" when she came on board in May 2009.

When I asked J. Larry Tyler, chairman and CEO of Tyler & Company, a healthcare recruiter who has conducted many CEO searches, how Jackson Health will fare as it looks for the perfect leader, he said it wouldn't be easy. First, Jackson has a troubled history. Failing to collect $310 million from uninsured patients and decades of mismanagement that led to a financial meltdown are just two examples of problems that have cropped up. In all fairness, these issues did not unfold on Roldan's watch as chief, but long before. Despite some bobbles, it seems she took steps to put Jackson Health on more solid footing, according to her resignation letter.

Tyler also noted that public hospitals of any size are among the hardest hospitals at which to recruit CEOs, because politicians often try to micromanage the leaders. What's more,  he said, the Sunshine Law in Florida does not exclude personnel matters. This means all candidates will be identified in the press. Talk about a deterrent!

"Governance under the Sunshine Law cuts down dramatically on the number of candidates willing to go through the process," he said.

Public hospitals go begging for new leaders. Not surprisingly, given that many potential applicants fear they'll lose their current jobs if they go public with their job searches, the pool can be limited. Those who are most apt to apply for the jobs are marginally qualified candidates who are out of work and have nothing to lose from a public candidacy.

It certainly will be interesting to see what sort of masochists this hellish job opening lures out into the bright light of day. - Sandra