Health & Family

New Carolinas HealthCare CEO starts his job ‘out of the office’

Gene Woods tours CMC Myers Park Clinic

Gene Woods toured CMC Myers Park Clinic on his second day on the job as the new CEO of Carolinas HealthCare System.
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Gene Woods toured CMC Myers Park Clinic on his second day on the job as the new CEO of Carolinas HealthCare System.

As the new CEO at Carolinas HealthCare System, Gene Woods has moved into his new corner office at the system’s Metropolitan building headquarters. But he’s hardly spent any time there.

“My whole goal was to be out of my office more than I’m in my office over these next several months,” said the former Texas hospital executive who was named to head the Charlotte-based system in February.

In his first two days on the job, Woods, 51, toured hospitals and clinics and met with doctors, nurses, other employees and patients, becoming acquainted with the $8 billion hospital system he now oversees.

On Monday, the new CEO posted a Facebook photo of himself with his arms around several hospital employees, noting it was his first day and that he was “excited to not only to be part of a great organization, but also a new resident of Charlotte and the Carolinas.”

Woods said his plan is to visit many of the system’s 40 hospitals and 900 care locations in the Carolinas “so I can learn what makes the people of our community special, as well as giving people an opportunity to get to know me.”

Woods is replacing Michael Tarwater, 62, who will retire at the end of June after more than 30 years with the system, 14 as CEO. The overlap in their tenures was intentional, giving Woods time to consult with his predecessor while settling in.

My whole goal was to be out of my office more than I’m in my office over these next several months.

Gene Woods, CEO of Carolinas HealthCare System

On Tuesday, as Woods toured Carolinas Medical Center-Myers Park on Kings Drive, he smiled often and made self-deprecating jokes.

As he walked, Woods introduced himself to employees, even reaching through a registration window to shake hands with staffers. “I’m Gene Woods. It’s nice to meet you,” he said repeatedly. To one nurse, he added, “Happy Nurses Week,” aware that the national observance is May 6-12.

Kristin Wade, an assistant vice president with Carolinas HealthCare, gave Woods some background on the Myers Park clinic. It’s one of four community clinics that serve primarily low-income patients; it was once on the campus of Carolinas Medical Center but moved to the former Nalle Clinic building in 1996; its specialties include internal medicine, pediatrics and obstetrics; and it provides training for medical residents based at CMC and Levine Children’s Hospital.

Woods, who speaks fluent Spanish, was pleased that the clinic has interpreters available and that some employees – including Dr. Dan Neuspiel, medical director of Myers Park Pediatrics – could converse with him in the first language of many of the clinic patients.

“It brings people’s blood pressure down if you can speak in their own language,” Woods said. “I’m sure (patients) appreciate that.”

Woods also liked hearing that the clinic has an on-site pharmacy and staffers that help patients apply for Medicaid, charity care or sliding scale payments. “That’s beautiful,” he told Wade. “A lot of folks are making tradeoffs between food and medicine.”

Among the employees Woods visited were nurse Johanna Wilson and social worker Julia Courchaine who work with patients to reduce unnecessary hospitalizations and emergency room visits. When Wilson asked how much he knew about the effort, Woods smiled: “Assume I know nothing, since it’s only my second day.”

Wilson said she and Courchaine visit patients at home or wherever they can be found – sometimes at the jail or in the parking lot of a strip club. They offer advice about medical and behavioral health problems, but also about housing, nutrition, transportation and even about getting a good night’s sleep.

“Could you teach me about the sleep thing?” Woods asked jokingly.

Wilson offered suggestions, including reduce caffeine consumption, turn off electronic devices two hours before bedtime, and reserve the bedroom for “only sleep and sex.”

The entourage of journalists and hospitals system officials erupted in laughter. Woods laughed too, and declared: “I’m going to be a non-compliant patient.”

As he headed toward the exit, Woods stopped in the pediatrics waiting room to say hello to a young mother.

“How’s it going?” Woods asked. “Are we taking good care of you?”

“Today everything’s going good,” said Emerald Carr of Charlotte. “Yeah, they’re taking good care of me.”

Satisfied, Woods left for the next stop, a lunch with nurses. He’s already sharing thoughts on his blog, “Words from Woods,” and on Twitter, @GeneAWoods. His first tweet: “Big week. Getting started @Carolinas. Also trying Twitter for the first time – sons are proud!”

Karen Garloch: 704-358-5078, @kgarloch