Memorial Hermann CEO Benjamin Chu steps down a year after taking the job

Benjamin Chu, M.D., is out as president and CEO of the Memorial Hermann Health System, the largest not-for-profit health system in Southeast Texas. (Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center)
Benjamin Chu

Benjamin Chu, M.D., is out as president and CEO of the Memorial Hermann Health System, the largest not-for-profit health system in Southeast Texas, after only one year on the job.

The organization announced the abrupt change in leadership Monday. Charles (Chuck) D. Stokes, executive vice president and chief operating officer, will serve as interim president and CEO in addition to his current role.

Chu, the first physician to lead the organization, is leaving the 16-hospital system to pursue his passion in health and public policy, according to the announcement. He serves as board chair for the Commonwealth Fund in New York, a member of the advisory committee to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and most recently served as chair of the American Hospital Association board of trustees.

“I have admired Memorial Hermann from afar for many years, and I was incredibly honored to join this prestigious organization,” Chu said in the statement. “It has been a privilege to have led one of the nation’s largest and most successful health systems—one that advocates for improved access to safe, high-quality care.”

Health system officials praised Chu and gave no other reason for his departure. “With the current state of the healthcare industry, I can think of no better time for a champion like Dr. Chu to help lead public policy efforts,” Board Chair Deborah M. Cannon said in the official announcement. “We thank him for his service and wish him the very best in his future endeavors. In the interim, we are confident Chuck will fill the role seamlessly.”

But unnamed hospital sources told the Houston Chronicle that the relationship was rocky from the start. Chu, who previously spent 11 years at Kaiser Permanente and was chosen for the job in part because of his experience working for Kaiser’s integrated system and population health, had never been a CEO before and apparently had trouble adjusting to his new role and the culture change. Even still, his departure shocked medical center staff who considered him well-liked and respected, the article said.

"This is a loss to the community," Kenneth Mattox, M.D., chief of staff at Ben Taub General Hospital, told the publication. "Dr. Chu was a great example of what we like in the med centerprofessionals who are highly competitive but get along with each other with respect."

Stokes joined Memorial Hermann in 2008 as COO, and the system says that under his leadership the organization has attained “unprecedented successes in patient safety, high-quality care and operational excellence.” A registered nurse, Stokes was instrumental in helping Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital receive the 2016 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award—the nation’s highest Presidential honor for performance excellence.

In addition to his role at Memorial Hermann, Stokes is the current chairman of the Board of Governors for the American College of Healthcare Executives.