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Fulton County Medical Center faces transition period

November 26, 2006|by KATE S. ALEXANDER

McCONNELLSBURG, PA. - Months after the resignation of Diane Palmer, president and chief executive officer of Fulton County (Pa.) Medical Center, the transition period for the critical access facility is nearing the end.

John McElwee Jr., interim CEO for Fulton County Medical Center and vice president of Summit Health, said the board of directors has identified its top candidates, and hopes to fill the position by January.

Palmer resigned in August, as did Jason Hawkins, the medical center's chief financial officer, and board member Joseph Antoon, leaving three vacancies on the 14-member board of directors.

With those vacancies and a $37 million building project already in progress, McElwee said the board came to Summit Health for help keeping the facility afloat.

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Selected to serve as interim CEO, McElwee, who has been a vice president at Summit Health since 1989, spends three days each week helping the center select a new CEO and CFO and prepare for the transition.

"I am pleasantly surprised with the caliber of candidates," he said.

McElwee has been working with Hawkins, who deferred his resignation to help select new leadership, on three major transition points for the center - codifying leadership, keeping the building project on course and improving patient relations with all aspects of the center.

So far, the center is doing well in all three areas, and is ahead of schedule in selecting its new leadership, McElwee said.

"I was reserved for six months, but we hope to be done in four months," he said.

Hawkins, who served as CFO for 13 years, said that despite the challenges facing the board, the building project has remained on course.

"We are on time and on budget with the building project," Hawkins said. "We hope to move in December 2007."

As a way to improve patient relations, one of McElwee's goals for Fulton County Medical Center is to see its base of affiliated physicians grow.

"This area needs a mix of primary-care physicians and specialists," he said.

He said that other medical facilities are in the process of bringing physicians into the area, which will benefit the medical center.

Both McElwee and Hawkins said they are focused on the future of the organization.

In addition to having completed more than 20 percent of its new, 97,000-square-foot facility, Hawkins said Fulton County Medical Center was deemed by the federal government to be a "critical-access hospital" in 1997 under Medicare. About 1,000 rural hospitals across the country have the designation.

As a critical-access hospital, the center is eligible for cost-based reimbursement from the government, he said.

"Fulton County Medical Center has a good recipe for success," Hawkins said.

McElwee said the board's strategic plan is "well thought out."

McElwee said Summit Health does not own Fulton County Medical Center, and has no plans to change that.

"We do recognize that Fulton County Medical Center is independent, and we have no desire for a takeover," he said.

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