When Citizens Memorial Hospital reaches its 40th anniversary in 2022, a new CEO will be at the helm.
Chief Operating Officer Michael Calhoun is slated to take the top role on Jan. 1, 2022, succeeding Gary Fulbright, who announced in May his intention to retire Dec. 31. Calhoun will also lead the CMH Foundation as executive director.
Fulbright, a nearly 40-year employee of the health care system, took over in January 2020 for longtime leader Donald Babb as only the second CEO in the organization’s history. Fulbright said he informed the board of directors for CMH and the CMH Foundation prior to his promotion last year of his intention to not serve in the leadership position for a long period.
Calhoun, 41, has accrued nearly 23 years of work experience at the Bolivar-based rural health care system, where he started at 18 years old.
“When (Fulbright) announced his retirement, I felt like that was the right thing to pursue that. I love CMH and have been a leader at CMH for a long time,” he said, noting he became chief operating officer when Fulbright started as CEO. “I felt like I could use my gifts and abilities in that role.”
Calhoun was one of two finalists for the CEO role, beating out 21 other candidates in the five-month search. Officials declined to disclose the position’s salary.
Patrick Douglas, chair of the six-member CMH Board of Directors and partner at Douglas, Haun & Heidemann PC, said Calhoun possesses inner strength and natural leadership qualities that has served the health care system well during the coronavirus pandemic. “He’s had to step up in this very difficult time and deal with one thing after another, just really unprecedented challenges and he always tended to overcome those,” he said. “He’s done a really good job of leading us through that on the hospital side. He’s definitely somebody who has that proven experience.”
Douglas said Calhoun’s knowledge of CMH operations, with its moving parts, people and procedures, was definitely a plus.
“But as a practical matter, it was really about finding the best candidate, period,” Douglas said.
Calhoun had Fulbright’s stamp of approval.
“It was a board decision and I wanted them to make up their own minds,” Fulbright said. “But I did recommend Mike. I felt like he would perform well in the role.”
In his career at CMH, Calhoun has worked in various hospital and clinic administration roles, including areas such as materials management, information services, finance and pharmacy. He started in 1999 as a pharmacy technician and even spent a summer in 2000 as an intern under Fulbright when he was controller at the hospital. His longest-tenured position at CMH is administrative director of clinics, for which he served 12 years, prior to his COO promotion last year.
Fulbright said he noticed Calhoun’s leadership abilities almost from the beginning of his career.
“Even back when he was an intern, I noticed other employees would come up to him and say, ‘Mike, what do you think we should do about this or that?’” Fulbright said, noting he’s witnessed Calhoun build strong relationships with physicians and other employees for years.
Calhoun said he served as a liaison with physicians over 20 years ago when the hospital started using Meditech, the computer system it utilizes for electronic medical records and financial applications.
“I didn’t know when I was helping them get live with EMR and meeting all the doctors that it was going to help me later, but it really did,” he said.
Although hospital officials say the current employee count is around 2,100, down from the 2,157 total reported in 2019, revenue is on the rise. The hospital system revenue for fiscal 2021 is going through the auditing process, but spokesperson Tamera Heitz-Peek said the total should exceed $574 million, which would be up roughly 16% from $522.1 million in 2020.
Officials say the health care system’s expansion into Willard remains on track for this year. Calhoun said construction of the $3 million clinic is set to wrap in November with a planned December opening. The clinic marks CMH’s 14th medical center.
Fulbright said expansion plans for the Bolivar hospital, which include replacing inpatient beds with private rooms, a new emergency room and a cardiac catherization laboratory, are still moving forward. Construction isn’t expected to start until at least 2023, he said, as the design phase will be ongoing for much of next year. Additionally, CMH is currently trying to secure financing through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The project is estimated to cost around $65 million and will take three or four years to complete, Fulbright said. Estimates earlier this year put the price tag at $26 million, but officials say the project’s scope has expanded and construction costs have increased significantly.
“It would give our hospital more capacity, which it really needs. We have more patients coming through than the physical capacity to be comfortable and take care of,” Calhoun said, noting the daily hospital census averages over 100 patients, including roughly 55 in the emergency department.
With Calhoun set to exit his COO position at year’s end, Douglas said he expects a candidate to be identified and hired within 30 days. At the CMH Foundation, Beverly Derrickson will continue to serve as its COO and also will take on a special projects coordinator role for the hospital.
As Calhoun nears his start as just the third CEO in CMH history, he said he’s contending with a lot of emotions.
“I feel honored they asked me to do this. I’m a little nervous because it’s new and a big responsibility,” he said. “But overall, the main emotion that I have is I’m really excited. I’ve worked with this leadership team, the physicians and staff for almost all my career. It’s a privilege to be able to serve them in this role, and I’m really happy about it and looking forward to our future.”
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