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CaroMont Health fires CEO; 'move in right direction'

GASTONIA Randall Kelley, president and chief executive officer of Gastonia-based CaroMont Health, has been fired after coming under criticism for his management style and a new “Cheat Death” tagline, it was announced Tuesday.

The action came following a lengthy board of directors’ called meeting Monday night that stretched from 5 p.m. until after 11 p.m. Directors met in a closed session and in open session voted 8-2 to terminate Kelley’s contract. One member abstained.

Douglas Luckett, CaroMont executive vice president, operational integration & chief operating officer, was named interim CEO.

Board Chairman Spurgeon Mackie Jr., who didn’t vote, said the termination “wasn’t an easy decision” but was necessary to address concerns of CaroMont employees and the medical community.

Kelley became CEO of CaroMont Health on Jan. 1, 2012, replacing Valinda Rutledge, who had left six months earlier for a position with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Kelley had earned high marks in his role as senior vice president with Inova Health System in Falls Church, Va.

But he had come under criticism in recent days from some board members over an effort to rebrand the former Gaston Memorial Hospital. Officials announced the hospital would change its name to CaroMont and would adopt a promotional slogan “Cheat Death.”

Last week, the chair of the Gaston Board of County Commissioners called for the resignation of two members of the county hospital system’s board of trustees who are related to employees of a firm hired to rebrand the former Gaston Memorial Hospital.

And commissioners said they were also concerned about physician complaints that the CaroMont administration under Kelley had created an environment that was detrimental to Gaston citizens.

‘Swift’ action

CaroMont board member Jason Williams, who is also a Gaston County commissioner, said Tuesday this outcry was a serious issue that “far outweighed the name change and slogan.”

“At the end of the day the CEO’s responsibility is to make sure the hospital is run smoothly and properly,” Williams said. “This standard was not being lived up to.”

According to Williams, Kelley alienated physicians, employees, community leaders and elected officials.

After directors met with physicians and heard their complaints the board “acted swiftly and boldly,” Williams said.

County commissioner Tom Keigher wasn’t sure that Kelley’s dismissal had solved everything.

“I think some are of the opinion that others in the administration may have contributed to problems within the hospital,” he said. “Some of us have been privy, on and off, for a year about concerns for safety and health care and adequate numbers of medical staff on duty.”

“It looks as though the board of directors are taking a strong position with regard to the administration after today’s announcement,” Keigher said. “The board has made some very positive gains and stepped up in a time of trouble. I hope they’ll continue on that path and work together with us.”

The rebranding issue focused on two members of CaroMont Health’s board of directors – Mackie and David Smith.

Smith’s son, David Smith Jr., is the co-founder of Chapel Hill-based Immortology, the marketing firm the hospital hired to oversee its $2.5 million rebranding. Immortology also employs Haddon Mackie, the daughter of Spurgeon Mackie.

Hospital spokeswoman Dallas Paddon said that hospital administrators – not the board of directors – made the decision to hire Immortology

Immortology was hired to help rebrand the hospital system in a county with a health ranking of 81st among North Carolina’s 100 counties. It’s unclear how much of the cost of the campaign goes to the marketing company.

Directors staying

The campaign included a controversial name change for Gaston Memorial Hospital, which is now CaroMont Regional Medical Center. The hospital system also introduced the controversial slogan: “Cheat Death.”

The slogan, which has since been dropped, was widely criticized and made national news.

According to a release, board of directors at Monday’s meeting discussed the connections Mackie and Smith had with Immortology and that they had “satisfied the company’s policies and bylaws regarding conflicts of interest and no action is required…both will continue their service on the Board of Directors of CaroMont Health.” Also, the board discussed the terms of the contract with Immortology and found the contract “was fair and reasonable.”

The private, nonprofit Gaston Memorial Hospital was established in 1946. The county owns the buildings and land and leases the property to CaroMont for $1 per year. With nearly 4,000 employees CaroMont is Gaston’s largest employer.

Staff writer Steve Lyttle contributed.

DePriest: 704-868-7745
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