Carolinas HealthCare welcomes new CEO, applauds retiring one

For the leaders of North Carolina’s largest hospital system, it was a morning of firsts and lasts.

Michael Tarwater, the retiring CEO of Carolinas HealthCare System, was applauded for his contributions Tuesday, during the final board meeting of his 35-year career with the Charlotte-based hospital system.

But it was the first board meeting for incoming President and CEO Gene Woods, who comes to Charlotte after five years as president and chief operating officer of CHRISTUS Health in Irving, Texas, a nonprofit, Catholic system with more than 50 hospitals.

Woods began work May 9, and told board members about a fast-paced “onboarding” process since then.

Woods is a member of the Board of Trustees of the American Hospital Association and has been elected its next chairman. He has been named three times as one of the top 25 minority executives in the country by Modern Healthcare.

CHS, a public nonprofit that had more than $9 billion in operating revenue last year, runs 40 hospitals, including Carolinas Medical Center.

Financial results released Tuesday show that during the first quarter of this year, the system saw an increase in patients and total revenue but a decline in profit from operations, compared to the same period last year.

But there was no public discussion at Tuesday’s meeting of what could prove to be a major threat to Carolinas HealthCare’s revenue stream: a recently filed federal antitrust suit alleging that the hospital system drove up costs for patients through illegal efforts to prevent competition.

Carolinas HealthCare has said that it follows the law and is dedicated to making health care more affordable.

More patients, more expenses

Financial results for the first quarter of 2016 show that the system:

▪ Saw patient visits to physician practices rise 2.9 percent over the same period last year. Emergency room visits climbed 7.7 percent.

▪ Had about $2.3 billion in net operating revenue, a 6.5 percent increase over the previous year. But the system’s expenses rose even faster. The system’s operating income – its revenue from operations minus expenses – was about $38 million, a decline of $34 million from the previous year.

▪ Invested $121 million – about 5 percent of its operating revenue – in construction projects, new care locations and other major improvements.

In all of 2015, the system said it invested $1.65 billion in “community benefit initiatives” aimed at improving the quality of medical care and the quality of life in the communities it serves.

As of June 30, 2015, the system had $3.5 billion in unrestricted reserves, according to Standard and Poor’s. “CHS’ core strength has been its balance sheet,” the rating agency wrote.

Ames Alexander: 704-358-5060, @amesalex