WhidbeyHealth board fires CEO

— Created February 23, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

The board of commissioners for Whidbey Island Public Hospital District has fired WhidbeyHealth’s Chief Executive Officer, Ron Telles.

In a press release last week, it was announced the board is ending its contract with Telles, who has agreed to stay on until an interim CEO is named.

“The district’s board of commissioners, specifically the president of the board, Ron Wallin, is leading the recruitment and selection of an interim and permanent chief executive officer,” said WhidbeyHealth Marketing Manager, Conor O’Brien, in an email to Whidbey Weekly. “A timeline was not provided, however urgency in finding a candidate was discussed. At the request of the board of commissioners, Ron Telles will remain acting CEO until an interim can be identified and effectively transitioned into the position.”

Telles served as WhidbeyHealth’s chief financial officer from 2015 to 2019 and was appointed CEO in 2019. He served in both roles until last December, when interim CFO, Jim Childers, was “brought in to lead the rightsizing for financial sustainability initiative,” according to O’Brien. Telles’ salary is $430,000 per year.

The board is also seeking to replace Childers’ position, because he was hired with a specific goal and timeline in mind, O’Brien said.

“He was not hired with the intention of full-time retention, rather to expedite implementation of our financial sustainability strategy,” he explained. “While the goal is still to hire a full time CFO, based on the market, it is much more likely that an interim CFO can be identified quicker than a full-time position. If the intended interim CFO is identified as a candidate for the CFO position, upward growth is also a possibility.”

Telles’ firing is the latest in a string of recent personnel changes at WhidbeyHealth. The week prior, a press release from the organization announced the board was “implementing a strategic organizational restructuring” aimed at helping to grow revenue in order to establish 90 days of cash reserves.

“Multiple positions have been eliminated, including that of Chief Nursing Officer, Chief Quality Officer, and Chief Information Technology Officer,” O’Brien said. “Other positions were eliminated as well, as the organization works to right-size the district to ensure financial sustainability.”

The staffing changes, which are meant to be permanent, affect all levels of staffing, although the executive positions were the ones specifically mentioned.

O’Brien said decisions regarding staffing changes were made before a “no confidence” vote in some of the organization’s leadership.

“The medical staff introduced a resolution of ‘no confidence’ at their Jan. 31 Medical Staff Committee meeting,” he said. “The no confidence resolution was for the hospital district’s CEO Ron Telles, [Chief Operating Officer] Dr. Garth Miller, and [Chief Legal Officer] Jake Kempton. The medical staff is comprised of providers throughout our community – both private practice and employees of the hospital district.

“The eliminations were identified and planned prior to the no confidence vote taking place as part of the identified rightsizing for financial sustainability,” O’Brien continued. “Unfortunately, the timing surrounding the no confidence vote coincided with when the decision would be delivered to the former employees, which has colored the opinions of many in the community.”

Neither Miller’s nor Kempton’s positions were eliminated.

Last November Island County voters approved a levy lift for the hospital district, the first in its 57-year history. WhidbeyHealth said revenues from the levy were expected to be used to retain existing staff by offering living wage jobs, recruit additional providers, improve technology and improve communications systems.