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Baptist Health to see change at top

By Glen Chase

This article was published March 4, 2014 at 1:29 a.m.

Russell D. Harrington Jr., president and chief executive officer of Little Rock-based Baptist Health, said Monday that he will step down on July 1 to become president emeritus and senior adviser to the state’s largest health-care organization.

Troy Wells, Baptist Health’s senior vice president of administrative services, has been chosen by the organization’s board of trustees to succeed Harrington.

Harrington, 70, has worked at Baptist Health for 40 years. He became president and CEO in 1984.

He said Monday that being able to develop Baptist Health into a statewide health-care provider has been key to its success.

“Remaining a faith-based locally owned and operated facility has been very meaningful to us,” he said. “We are only responsible to the citizens of this state and decisions are made here locally by our local board.”

But, like any other healthcare provider, Harrington said Baptist Health is facing modern challenges, including covering the cost of providing care to those who need it.

Harrington said all healthcare providers are dealing with similar reimbursement issues.

“We have more and more demands for services, quality service,” Harrington said. “But at the same time, everybody, especially the government, wants to pay us less and less.”

Over the years, Baptist has tried to look at broader health-care issues, he said.

“We try to focus on the ministry of health, not just running a hospital or a hospital system,” he said. “But, the days are tough. Tougher than they were five years ago certainly.”

Baptist Health, with more than 7,600 employees, is the state’s third-largest private employer. The organization operates eight hospitals with about 1,380 beds, including a 400-resident retirement center, 120 rehabilitation beds, a physician service organization, an HMO joint venture and schools for nursing and other health-related fields.

On Monday, Baptist Health also announced several other changes in its top management.

Trustees named Doug Weeks as executive vice president and chief operating officer. Weeks had been senior vice president of hospital operations. Trustees also voted to give Bob Roberts, Baptist’s chief financial officer, the additional title of executive vice president.

Harrington has been involved in a number of Baptist Health initiatives aimed at expanding health services, ranging from the Med Flight program in 1984, the creation of the Health Advantage HMO in 1985, an organ-transplant program to the opening of a new medical center in Heber Springs in 2007 and installing a new system to manage electronic medical records in 2012.

He said the growth of Baptist’s two nursing schools and seven allied health-care programs, which combined have more than 900 students, helps ensure the system has the health-care workers it needs.

Harrington’s concern about the state’s overall health-care needs is Harrington’s legacy, said Jim Jones, chairman of Baptist Health’s board of trustees.

“I have had the distinct pleasure of serving on the Baptist Health board of trustees for many years, and during this time I have witnessed firsthand Russ Harrington’s passion for our healing ministry,” Jones said in a news release. “His dedication to improving the health of Arkansans and his commitment to true servant leadership has made Baptist Health the leading health-care organization it is today.”

Harrington said that over the years, he has tried to keep Baptist Health aware of broader health-care issues.

“I’ve really, really been blessed to be here. It’s a great organization. And I’ve taken a lot of pride in what we’ve done and I look forward to them continuing to be successful.”

Harrington earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Arkansas State University and a master’s degree in health services management from the University of Missouri in Columbia.

He has been active in many community organizations, including the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, Fifty for the Future, the Governor’s Healthcare Roundtable, as well as the Quapaw Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the United Way and the advisory board for the Hickingbotham School of Business at Ouachita Baptist University. He’s also served on the American Hospital Association board of delegates, the Voluntary Hospital Associations of America and on the industry council of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Harrington and his wife, Donna, have two children and two grandsons. They are members of Immanuel Baptist Church.

Harrington said his designation as “president emeritus” is indication that the board of trustees still want to take advantage of his knowledge after his retirement. He said he’ll no longer be involved in Baptist’s day-to-day operations.

“Walking away is the hardest thing to do,” he said. “I certainly can always be in a position to help this place.”

Business, Pages 19 on 03/04/2014

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