G.T. Dunlop Ecker, president of ailing Loudoun Healthcare Inc., resigned Thursday, saying the "next stage of this hospital's evolution needs to be directed by an individual who has no accountability for present circumstances," according to a statement released Friday by the not-for-profit organization.
The board of directors has begun a search to replace Ecker, who will step down Aug. 1. The hospital will begin interviewing so-called turnaround companies as well as potential chief executives early this week. The board has said it hopes to solve the financial crisis and keep Loudoun Hospital Center independent rather than sell to a health care chain.
Board Chairman Joseph M. Ramos said Ecker's resignation came after a nine-hour meeting Thursday during which board members and Ecker had an "amicable" discussion regarding his leaving.
Loudoun Healthcare has reported a two-year loss of $20 million. Hospital administration officials have cited reduced reimbursements from managed care companies, the cost of buying physicians' practices and integrating them into the hospital bureaucracy, and operating two campuses--its new one in Lansdowne and the old one in Leesburg--as factors contributing to the losses.
Ecker has said he was unaware of the gravity of the financial trouble until April, when financial advisers informed him they would need to make accounting adjustments to account for the increase in the number of managed care patients.
Ecker, who joined the hospital in 1994, did not return a phone call seeking comment. In Thursday's statement, he indicated that he was proud of his accomplishments, which included construction of the new hospital facility in the face of community opposition. Residents in western Loudoun did not want to see the 85-year-old hospital move to the more populous eastern part of the county.
"Regretfully, the time needed to deal with one set of crises masked somewhat the urgency of dealing with the deficiencies of the basic business structure," his statement continued.
Ramos said the hospital could not withstand a divided community or staff if it is to remain independent.
"We discussed a lot of the dynamics of what's going on in the community, with the physicians, and with the [financial situation]," Ramos said, noting the hospital will need "strong leadership" to avoid potential rifts. Doctors who have remained independent of the hospital have expressed resentment at what they say is the preferred treatment given to the hospital-acquired practices.
He also reiterated the board's desire for the hospital to remain independent, despite interest from such outside organizations as Inova Health System, Virginia's largest health care provider. Inova has agreed to provide Loudoun Healthcare with at least $5 million in loans and has suggested assuming a role in running walk-in clinics.
The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors had asked hospital board members to attend its meeting last Thursday, but the board turned down the invitation. Ecker had said the hospital board would consider meeting with supervisors at a later date.
Several supervisors have expressed anger over Ecker's handling of the hospital's financial affairs.
"I think that definitely [the resignation] is a good move, and I think that anybody who claims to not know until the last few months what was happening there in terms of their losses is either very irresponsible . . . or they're not telling the truth," said Supervisor Scott K. York (R-Sterling).
York also voiced concern over Loudoun Healthcare's accessibility to residents in the west. As an example, he cited the decision to shorten hours of operation at the Urgent Care Center at the Loudoun Valley Medical Center in Purcellville.
Beginning July 1, the urgent care clinic cut back 10 hours a week as a cost-saving measure, according to Loudoun Healthcare spokeswoman Linda Roberts. The new hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Roberts said few patients have visited during the evening, contributing to the decision to close earlier during the week and open earlier on weekends.