WTOC sits down for one-on-one with Memorial Health Interim CEO

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - We're hearing from the new Interim CEO of Memorial Health for the first time. This comes as the public hospital is being sold to a private company - Hospital Corporation of America.

WTOC was the first to get an exclusive one-on-one with Kerry Watson. This is only his second week on the job, but he's used to the role and title as interim because this is what he does. He started a business a couple of years ago that helps hospitals transition through leadership and strategic planning.

"I've been on board a week and a half. I've told everyone here it's like drinking from a fire hose; not intended to be negative, but it's just a lot of information coming at you at the same time," Watson said.

WTOC: "Why do you think you were chosen to be the person for this job?"

Watson: "I don't know, you'll have to ask the board that. I don't know. Obviously, if you look at my resume, I have a lot of experience at a lot of major organizations. I can tell you I'm enthusiastic about the challenge. This is a prestigious organization; it has rich history. I thought it was somewhere I could contribute positively to the outcomes that the board has stated they were looking to achieve."

WTOC: "Have you ever transitioned from public to private?"

Watson: "The former organization I was working with was in the process of transitioning through merger, but this is the first organization I've worked with that's transitioned from public to private."

WTOC: "Does that concern you at all?"

Watson: "You know, I think HCA is a really great organization. I know of HCA. I know of the work that they do. I think the quality of their care can't be questioned. Obviously, they are a for-profit model, so efficiency is important."

WTOC: "I know people are concerned about the Level 1 Trauma services and the letter of intent, and I know that was laid out in the letter of intent."

Watson: "Is there concern on my part? No. I mean, I think that the HCA executive team is supportive of a continued Level 1 center. I think there's a benefit to build that."

WTOC: "What would you say to team members who may feel like they are in the dark?"

Watson: "My message is consistent. These are obviously stressful times of unknown, but we still have to focus on what we do which is our patients; the care of our patients, and ensure that is not compromised in this process. The most critical part of what we do is to ensure that when a patient walks through that door, that the patient is assured and reassured that we provide the best and the safest quality of care that they can expect to get."

Watson says he expects the transition to last between six and nine months, but he would not give a definite answer as to whether he has more permanent long-term intentions to stick around. While Watson's time may be limited, he does not plan to maintain the status quo.

He's already spent the last two weeks meeting with physicians, faculty and staff members conducting a critical assessment of possible issues may arise during the transition. Watson says they will use that information to come up with a plan to ensure they maintain the highest level of care during this process.

"The most critical part of what we do is to ensure that when a patient walks through that door that the patient is assured and reassured that we provide the best and the safest quality of care that they can expect to get," said Watson.

Watson currently serves as President and CEO of Watson Healthcare and Management Solutions. He previously served as interim system COO and hospital president at Arnot Health and Arnot Ogden Medical Center in New York.

Former Memorial Health CEO Maggie Gill was not able to do an interview with us, but she did give some final remarks during her last board meeting on Thursday.

"No one could ask for a more dedicated group of people, and the group that sits around this table and the team that I have worked with over this time. The people at Memorial is what makes Memorial so special. I'm very, very grateful to all of you. I think Memorial has a bright future. I think everyone should feel excited about it, and thank you so much for all of your support. I hate goodbyes, so I'll just say I'll see you around."

Gill says she plans to pursue other professional opportunities, but she has not said specifically what those plans are.

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