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The Journal Gazette

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Thursday, August 02, 2018 1:00 am

St. Joe CEO resigns after 6 months

Investigated for remark about ex-Lutheran chief Brian Bauer

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Karen Fordham has ended her sometimes rocky tenure as CEO of St. Joseph Hospital to accept a position out of state, officials confirmed Wednesday.

“Lisa Dolan, who has been working closely with St. Joe physicians and leaders over the last several months, will serve as interim CEO,” spokesman Geoff Thomas said in an email.

“Members of the hospital's board, physicians and administration will soon begin the search to identify the next CEO to lead St. Joseph Hospital,” he added.

Fordham joined the Lutheran Health Network-owned hospital in January.

The downtown Fort Wayne hospital has lost verification of its burn unit and stopped offering child birth services in all but emergency situations.

The hospital administrator, who previously served as president and CEO of Huron Valley Sinai Hospital outside Detroit, was brought in to lead planning for a new downtown hospital that parent company Community Health Systems has promised to build. She was also expected to oversee the transition into the new facility.

Fordham found controversy here when she apparently made remarks in February that a former hospital executive found threatening.

Relations between CHS and the local community have been rocky in recent years. Two years ago, a group of 10 physicians tried to broker a deal for an outside investor to acquire Lutheran's network from CHS. The doctors claimed CHS was siphoning local profits to prop up failing hospitals elsewhere rather than investing in Lutheran's network needs.

When that deal didn't go through, CHS fired Brian Bauer, the network's CEO, saying he seemed allied too closely with the physicians group.

Bauer now works for Indiana University Health, which is entering the Fort Wayne market as a health care provider. CHS filed a lawsuit against Bauer, accusing him of sharing its business secrets with IU Health.

Fordham was quoted as telling fellow hospital administrators that Bauer “should be shot and killed for what he did.”

Bauer filed a complaint with the Allen County Sheriff's Department, which investigated the incident. No charges were filed.

Lutheran network officials didn't deny the incident took place. Thomas, the spokesman, in March described Fordham's comments as “an off-the-cuff, regrettable moment.”

On Wednesday, Thomas didn't say where Fordham is headed.

Fordham was out of work for almost a year before Lutheran's network hired her. She resigned from her position with Huron Valley Sinai Hospital in February 2017 in the midst of organizational changes made by parent company Tenet Healthcare.

During the interim before arriving at St. Joe, Fordham offered consulting services through her firm, Topside Strategies Consulting in Commerce, Michigan.

Fordham was the fourth top Lutheran executive hired in a five-month stretch. CHS appointed Mike Poore regional president and CEO of Lutheran Health Network in August 2017. Poore then hired CEOs for Lutheran, Dupont and St. Joe hospitals.

In September 2017, Poore announced plans to invest $100 million – or more – in a full-service, 100-bed downtown hospital that will replace St. Joe.

Plans call for construction to begin this year with occupancy in 2020.

At the time of that announcement, St. Joe was licensed for 191 beds, with patients in 100 of them.

The construction plans were met with some skepticism because the announcement didn't display renderings, specify a dollar amount, name a location or offer a bed count. Almost one year later, officials still have not announced a location.

The plan's skeptics point to the $13.7 billion in CHS long-term debt as a reason to doubt the hospital will be built. The amount is current as of June 30, the end of the company's second quarter.

Last week, CHS reported a $110 million loss for its most recent quarter.

sslater@jg.net