Thursday, October 20, 2011

Richard Cowart: New TriStar chief is accessible exec, fierce foe

After a decade of relative stability, the market transition is now complete.

All three leading Metro Nashville health systems have new leaders. First, Jeff Balser at Vanderbilt Health. Next, Dr. Mike Schatzlein at Saint Thomas/Baptist. Finally, Steve Corbeil at HCA/TriStar.

Corbeil, a Michigan graduate and the son of a suburban Detroit banker, has been in hospital management for more than 20 years. He began his career as the CEO of a small hospital in Tullahoma, now Harton Regional Medical Center. After hospital assignments in Los Angeles, New Orleans and Redding, Calif., Corbeil became a regional executive for Tenet Healthcare based in Dallas.

When Healthcare Midwest decided to sell its health system in Kansas City, Mo., Corbeil led the Tenet team seeking to acquire the Kansas City assets and operations. However, after HCA won the bid for Healthcare Midwest, the tables were turned, and Corbeil returned to HCA as president of the 10-hospital HCA Midwest Health System, where he has been since 2007.

Known as a gregarious “people person,” Corbeil brings to TriStar Health System a well-earned reputation as an active listener, an approachable executive and a fierce competitor.

Health Midwest’s transition from a sprawling and struggling nonprofit system to a high- performing market leader speaks to his ability to charm physicians and inspire a workforce.

Still, Corbeil’s tenure in Missouri was not without controversy. One of Corbeil’s hospitals, Centerpoint Medical Center in Independence, Mo., was cited by the National Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices in a contentious dispute with a nurses union. Likewise, several HCA Kansas City facilities scored poorly in the initial round of Medicare core benchmarks, though those scores have improved significantly during Corbeil’s tenure.

TriStar ranks high

The presidency of TriStar has always been a stellar position within the HCA constellation. The HCA founders have a strong community pride in their headquarters city.

The TriStar hospitals were a showcase of how HCA runs first-class, high-performing hospitals. Former TriStar Health System presidents include Paul Rutledge, the current president of HCA’s Central Group and an influential member of the HCA senior management team.

The transfer of Corbeil to Nashville signals his ascendency in the HCA executives’ farm system.

Corbeil’s arrival coincides with the retirement of Larry Kloess, the current president of TriStar Health System. Kloess served first as Centennial’s CEO and later as TriStar president. Kloess is one of the consummate gentlemen of health care, highly regarded by his teammates, his competitors and the community at large.

Kloess has been activein many civic endeavors, including chairing the Tennessee Hospital Association and the localaffiliate of the American Heart Association. While HCA isbringing in a first-class leader, it is also losing one to early retirement.

As the three health systems’ new quarterbacks settle into their jobs, we’ll keep watch on how the market rankings are affected with new signal callers at the center of attention.