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NMHS taps Fla. executive as new CEO

TUPELO — The search may be over, but the real work is about to begin. Following a nine-month national recruiting initiative, the board of directors of Tupelo-based North Mississippi Health Services (NMHS) named John R. Heer Jr. as its new president and chief executive officer at a press conference following the company’s annual board retreat.

Heer, 45, comes to Tupelo from Baptist Hospital Health Care Corp. in Pensacola, Fla., where he served as Baptist Hospital Inc.’s president since 2001 and as a senior vice president and administrator from 1999 to 2001. As president, Heer was responsible for two hospitals-a 492-bed tertiary care and referral medical center in Pensacola and a 60-bed medical and surgical hospital in Gulf Breeze, Fla., as well as an ambulatory care complex that offers outpatient and diagnostic services. Under Heer’s leadership, Baptist was honored with the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award in 2003 in the healthcare category.

Additionally, Baptist made Fortune magazine’s “Best Companies in America to Work For” list for three consecutive years. The company has also been in the top one percent of hospitals in the Press Ganey Customer Service Database, the largest customer service measurement company in the nation.

A Memphis native, Heer takes over his new post July 12. He replaces Jeff Barber, who served NMHS from 1995 to September 2003. Barber was recently named president and CEO of Owensboro Medical Health Services in Owensboro, Ky. Throughout the transition period, NMMC chief operating officer Gerald Wages — a long-time NMMC executive — served as interim president and CEO.

Comprehensive search process

BancorpSouth CEO Aubrey Patterson, who chaired a search committee consisting of furniture executive Mickey Holliman, bankers John Smith and Lewis Whitfield and physician C.K. “Dick” White, said that the committee devoted long hours to a comprehensive search process in an effort to find a candidate who possessed “the values and experience that are imperative for this important leadership role.”

“Providing vision for the region’s healthcare leader is a major responsibility, and we are confident that John Heer is the ideal person to accomplish this task,” Patterson said.

“Our national search yielded seven highly qualified candidates, but there was one person who was head and shoulders above the rest. John is a person who can take this organization to the next level, given his leadership skills, character and his ability to communicate. He is the type of person who exemplifies the type of leadership health care calls for and that’s humble, servant leadership. We believe that he is a great fit for this organization and the community.”

Community relations focus?

Community relations should be a top priority for Heer, given NMHS’ public relations problems of recent months.

Unresolved contract issues with BlueCross/BlueShield, billing and cost concerns and critics’ charges of arrogance and loss of a community-driven focus erupted in a heated exchange at a community forum at Tupelo’s Advanced Education Center earlier this spring as the prospect of a second hospital in Lee County loomed. While legislative attempts to open the door for a second hospital did not pan out, legislative and broader community relations are top-of-mind issues for NMHS. Heer said that communication and outreach with medical center constituents will be a focal point among his many forthcoming responsibilities at NMHS.

“We need to do a better job of communicating, and by that I mean mostly listening,” Heer said, as he reiterated the importance of the NMHS’ management team being engaged with front-line staff, physicians and the broader community. Heer added that he was optimistic that issues with BlueCross/Blue Shield would be resolved.

House Public Health chair Steve Holland (D-Plantersville) said that he wishes Heer well, but added that concerns should not be dismissed as perception problems.

“There are a number of issues that have been expressed in the community that need to be addressed, and there is a lot of work to be done,” Holland said in a telephone interview shortly after Heer’s appointment was announced.

Heer stated that he is proud to be a part of an organization such as NMHS and that he looks forward to building on its tradition of quality healthcare in the region. While Baptist Hospital Inc. in Pensacola has built an enviable reputation in terms of customer service and employee satisfaction, Heer said that he sees the same commitment at NMHS. He said that his goal is to have every employee as a consumer advocate and he believes that “North Mississippi is well on its way to achieving the Baldridge award.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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