Phoebe CEO Joel Wernick to retire next year

Phoebe CEO Joel Wernick to retire next year
Joel Wernick (Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)
(Source: WALB)

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital has announced that President and CEO Joel Wernick will retire in May 2019.

Wernick has spent three decades leading Phoebe and its many satellite health care facilities.

Under Wernick's control, Phoebe Putney expanded greatly, not so much with additional beds at its primary hospital, but by buying other facilities.

Phoebe Putney issued this statement Thursday morning-

Search Begins for Phoebe's Next CEO as Joel Wernick Announces Retirement

In 1990, Phoebe Putney restructured to a health system that allowed the hospital to expand services beyond Dougherty County. The health system now includes Phoebe Sumter Hospital in Americus, Phoebe Worth in Sylvester, Southwest Regional Medical Center in Cuthbert, and there was a lease agreement with Dorminy Medical Center in Fitzgerald.

It also has several walk-in clinics.

In 2010, Wernick helped engineer a $195 million deal to buy Palmyra Medical Center, then owned by the nation's largest hospital operator, Hospital Corporation of America, HCA. The agreement ended fierce competition between the two, including a lawsuit over whether Palmyra could start delivering babies, which never came to pass.

As part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in 2013, Phoebe Putney and the Hospital Authority of Albany and Dougherty Co. have agreed that for the next ten years, they would not acquire, without prior notification to the FTC, a General Acute Care Hospital, an inpatient or outpatient clinic or facility or a physician group practice of five or more physicians within the six-county region the FTC asserted was relevant (Dougherty, Terrell, Lee, Worth, Baker, and Mitchell Counties).

Phoebe Putney and the Authority also agreed that for the next five years, they would not file any objections with the Georgia Department of Community Health to the issuance of a Certificate of Need for a new general acute care hospital in the same six-county region.

Phoebe and the Authority are not restricted from objecting to CON applications for other projects but have agreed to provide a copy of any such objection to the FTC. Lastly, Phoebe Putney agreed to provide annual reports of its compliance with these provisions, for ten years.

Phoebe Putney Hospital has made national news with on-going feuds with some of its employees, especially with the 'Phoebe Factoids' that were faxed to many area companies a decade and a half ago.

Some in the Albany healthcare field have spoken out over several years about their differences with Phoebe's practices and tactics under Wernick, which they saw as heavy-handed.

The search for a replacement

After Wernick's announcement, Phoebe Board members said he will leave behind a much bigger, and better-equipped health system.

"Mainly due to his vision, his imagination, and his resourcefulness to get things done," said Dr. John Culbreath, a Phoebe Board member.

Culbreath said the search committee will hire an executive search consulting firm to find a candidate with strong healthcare financial fundamentals.

"To deal with the challenges of having enough money and other resources in the face of ever-changing landscapes," explained Culbreath. "Both at the state level and national level."

Culbreath said the controversy of Dougherty County suing the state to stop the new Lee County Hospital had nothing to do with Wernick's decision to retire.

"So the choice is completely his," said Culbreath. "The board would much rather have him stay on till he is 70 or 75. But that would not be fair to him."

The Phoebe Board chairman said Wernick will stay on if it takes longer than 12 months to find the new CEO.

Culbreath said the search committee, made up of seven or eight people, will present several finalists to the full Phoebe Health Systems Board for them to select the best candidate.

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