Ohio State announced it would begin looking for a new leader of its growing health enterprise, the Wexner Medical Center. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

After more than six months without someone at the helm of the Wexner Medical Center, Ohio State announced it would begin looking for a new leader of its growing health enterprise.

The medical center had record revenue margins in the past year despite CEO Sheldon Retchin stepping down following criticism from some of Ohio State’s top doctors.

Now, Ohio State is looking to build on the success of the medical center that continues to grow not only in physical size, but also in its impact on the university’s bottom line; the medical center made up 48 percent of Ohio State’s total budget in 2016 and topped $3 billion in revenue for the first time that year, according to recent Board of Trustees documents.

“All of those things that we are doing are working quite well,” University President Michael Drake said in an interview. “And we want those to continue. What [the new CEO] will help us do is to improve, which we always want to be improving. And we are entering into a significant growth phase and we want somebody to manage us through that.”

The significant growth will be seen right away, because Ohio State continues to expand its medical center. The university is planning on upgrading its ambulance facilities and will build a new research facility, as well as even more updates to the existing hospital, according to Board documents.

I think what we learned from the past is that we can do a better job in communicating and sharing ideas. There has been a great effort since the spring in doing that, so I think we have made great progress. — Ohio State President Michael Drake

The chancellor will be in charge of overseeing both the medical center hospital operations and the College of Medicine.

The official term for the new role is chancellor. But, Drake said the duties are the same as the ones Retchin, who held the title of CEO of the medical center, had before, with a modernized and more streamlined job description.

Drake said the person selected would also have the same wide-ranging responsibilities as Retchin, who also was the executive vice president of health sciences before resigning in May.

“It’s called different things in different places,” Drake said in reference to the chancellor title. “We’re just wanting to make sure that we capture the size of our health science enterprise. That was the reason for the [name] change.”

Executive search firm Witt Kieffer was hired to undergo a national search for the chancellor. Ohio State has used the search firm several times to help fill top job openings, most recently using the firm to find Susan Basso, the university’s senior vice president of human resources.

Drake said an advisory committee at Ohio State, made up primarily of faculty, will narrow down finalists along with the search firm in what he called a “robust process.”

The lengthy search will take months, Drake said. He expects to make a hire by the end of the summer, but said it might take longer.

“The most important thing is that we get the right person,” he said.

Whomever that right person is, they will be tasked with continuing the upward trajectory of the medical center and mending any lingering divides between senior leadership and top medical talent.

Five months after Retchin stepped down as his leadership was being questioned in a series of letters by more than 25 doctors and department chairs in May, one of the signees, Dr. Ali Rezai, left the medical center to join former Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee at West Virginia University’s growing medical facility.

The letters stated Retchin’s leadership caused top Ohio State faculty to leave and several key positions to go unfilled.

Rezai was the head of Wexner Medical Center’s Neurological Institute. He marked the sixth prominent figure Gee has pulled from Ohio State to West Virginia.

But Drake said he and medical center leadership learned a thing or two from the apparent divide that ultimately led to Retchin’s resignation.

“That was an interesting disconnect. The data are the data,” he said, pointing to positive metrics across the board for the medical center under Retchin’s guidance.

“But we also want to make sure that people are working well together and are feeling that. I think what we learned from the past is that we can do a better job in communicating and sharing ideas. There has been a great effort since the spring in doing that, so I think we have made great progress.”

Ohio State is developing a plan to increase faculty engagement in the medical center, according to November medical center Board of Trustees documents.

Drake, a former ophthalmology professor at University of California, San Francisco, who later became the vice president for health affairs for the University of California system, has frequently been lauded for the increased role and leadership he has taken on with the Wexner Medical Center.

His oversight of the center during its unprecedented success was cited by the Board as a reason for his performance bonus earlier this month.

Drake said he is looking forward to the new hire alleviating some of the added responsibility he has had in the past year.

“It has taken a little bit more of my time,” he said. “I get up very happy with the way things are working. But one of the things that this position will do is honestly relieve a little bit more of my time because we have other things we need to focus on as well.”

Whoever ends up taking the new position will have to work with an existing administration staff made up by some of Retchin’s most noteworthy hires.

One of them, Craig Kent, dean of the College of Medicine, was also named in the letters from doctors that asserted Retchin created division between the cancer center and medical college.

Other Retchin hires include CFO Mark Larmore and COO David McQuaid, who currently runs the operations of the hospital in Retchin’s absence.

Soon, they will all report to a new boss, one who will shape Ohio State’s impact in the field of medicine and its medical center’s growing footprint for the foreseeable future.