A somewhat clearer picture has emerged of the circumstances surrounding the resignation last December of Robert L. Willett, former president and chief executive officer of 467-bed Kettering (Ohio) Medical Center.
MODERN HEALTHCARE reported in May that Mr. Willett had taken early retirement in a disagreement involving planned layoffs of top executives he had recruited and the hospital's restructuring plans (May 9, p. 30). The report was based on interviews with Kettering executives and board members.
But in a recent interview, Ronald Wisbey, Kettering's chairman and an official of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said Mr. Willett resigned after nearly 30 years with Kettering over philosophical differences. Kettering is affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which sponsors 50 hospitals in the United States.
While Mr. Wisbey declined to go into many of the details surrounding Mr. Willett's resignation, the differences included the future direction of the hospital, he said.
"Anyone who knows Bob knows that he is not reluctant to lay off people when needed," Mr. Wisbey said. "He's done it many times in the past. He is not a wimp."
At the time of his retirement, Mr. Willett declined to speak about his reasons for leaving. After the story was published, Mr. Willett phoned MODERN HEALTHCARE, and although he declined to discuss the specifics of his resignation, he suggested that the real story hadn't been told.
Interviewed last week along with Mr. Wisbey, Mr. Willett still declined to speak about his resignation. Mr. Wisbey said the retirement agreement with Mr. Willett prohibits both sides from discussing the conditions or terms of his resignation.
"Everyone has a different perspective as to what happened," Mr. Wisbey said. "Bob's version is somewhat different (than other board members'). The fact is Bob resigned and we are moving on."
Just before Mr. Willett's resignation, Kettering had embarked on an ambitious internal restructuring program with the help of the Cleveland office of Ernst & Young.
Kettering's restructuring program, announced earlier this year, includes reducing managerial levels to three from five and opens the door to collaborative arrangements with other hospitals and physicians. It is also an effort to increase its ability to conduct managed-care contracting, Mr. Wisbey said.
Mr. Wisbey acknowledged that Kettering is a little behind competitors in creating a regionally integrated healthcare system to contract with managed-care organizations. But, he added, Kettering has the financial resources to reach its goals.
"Bob left this hospital in good financial shape," Mr. Wisbey said. "We are on the right track."
Over the last 15 years, Kettering has grown from a hospital that struggled to meet its payroll to a consistently profitable institution with total revenues of $166.2 million and total assets of $320.8 million.
In 1992, Kettering Medical Center earned net income of $13 million for a total profit margin of 8.8%, according to HCIA, a Baltimore-based healthcare information company.
Two years ago, Kettering settled a lawsuit with a group of six non-Adventist trustees and other community members who sought ownership of the hospital, which they contended was improperly taken from them by the Adventist Church. The settlement, however, didn't address ownership of the hospital, which was the central question of the lawsuit. It did give more power to the non-Adventist trustees, who are a minority on the 18-member board.