Vail Health CEO Kirchner moving into a planning role; new CEO search has begun | VailDaily.com

Vail Health CEO Kirchner moving into a planning role; new CEO search has begun

VAIL — Forget a two-week notice. The board at Vail Health has more than two years to replace the current CEO.

In a recent interview, Vail Health Board of Directors Chairman Mike Shannon said current CEO Doris Kirchner — who was appointed to the position in September 2009 — came to the board in the fall of 2017 to talk about a transition plan, with her moving out of the CEO's role by 2020.

That plan has turned into two things: A nationwide search for a new CEO and defining Kirchner's future role with Vail Health.

Kirchner's job now involves managing both day-to-day operations and strategic planning.

Either one of those jobs is plenty for any one person.

Shannon, who once ran Vail Associates — the precursor to Vail Resorts — said that job "was a lot easier" than running Vail Health today.

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Building on current work

Shannon said moving Kirchner into a more strategy-focused role will continue work she's already been doing for several years.

A big part of that strategic work has been planning Vail Health's $190 million expansion and renovation project at the Vail campus.

Officials are planning for a "seamless" opening for the new east wing, Shannon said. That's happening while the hospital remains open 24 hours every day.

Kirchner said she has forged relationships over the years with people in local and state government. She's also has firsthand experience with the evolving health care landscape in the valley and state.

Kirchner said she hopes to guide Vail Health as the national health insurance landscape changes. She said she also wants to have a role in creating a better mental health treatment system for the county.

"It's a hodgepodge around the country," Shannon said of mental health treatment.

"Putting people in jail is an anachronistic system," he added, noting that people seeking treatment also can't be a risk to care providers.

But a new CEO has to be hired for Kirchner to put all her time into strategy.

A thorough search

On that front, Shannon said the board is going to take its time looking for the right person.

"We're looking for a world-class talent that wants to live locally and understands the needs of the community," Shannon said. "The goal is delivering world-class health care."

The person ultimately picked for the CEO job will have big shoes to fill.

Shannon said the internal search committee includes two doctors, as well as board members and others to evaluate candidates.

"We want a health care executive that leads with (patients) in mind," he said.

In addition, the new CEO will have to have "quality ambitions," Shannon said, as well as a keen understanding of competitive health care markets. Vail Health also serves a diverse base of patients, Shannon said.

"We're growing at both ends of the (demographic) spectrum," Shannon said, adding that the hospital is caring for more expectant mothers and newborns while also serving an aging population.

"It's going to be a very difficult job," Shannon said.

The new CEO will also quickly learn that Vail Health has a unique position among mountain hospitals and will face uncertainty about the future of rural hospitals nationwide.

Shannon said Aspen and many other hospitals are supported with tax dollars, at least in part. No local tax money supports Vail Health.

In addition, Kirchner said hospital officials are determined to keep Vail Health independent.

There are interests in Denver that believe the Colorado Legislature should require rural hospitals to essentially stabilize the most critical patients and ship them to Denver.

"That's costly, and it would, over time, erode the quality of care we have here," Kirchner said. That's why it's important to stay in touch with legislators who represent the region, she added.

While Kirchner is planning to move away from day-to-day management, she said she won't leave entirely after 2020.

"I live here," she said. "I'm not going anywhere."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com or 970-748-2930.

By the numbers

$2 million: The amount Vail Health spends per year on workforce housing.

25 percent: Share of The Tarnes apartments owned by Vail Health.

10: Facilities operated by Vail Health.

3 percent: Average cost increase at Vail Health in the past decade.

Source: Vail Health