James Eastham has resigned as senior vice president and chief executive officer of Memorial Hermann Hospital to accept a position at Valley Baptist Health System in Harlingen, Texas.
Eastham, 56, who was unavailable for comment last week, told staff members he was stepping down from the top post at the 724-bed Houston hospital, a spokeswoman said. Ken Wine, 61, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, was named interim CEO.
Eastham's last day has not been officially set, but he is expected to end his tenure by Sept. 3, the spokeswoman said.
Eastham became CEO at the hospital in 1998, one year after the merger of Memorial Hospital Southwest and Hermann Hospital. The merger into Memorial Hermann Hospital is considered one of the more successful mergers between hospitals, said John Self, president and managing director of JohnMarch Partners, an executive recruitment firm.
"This is a surprising announcement," Self said. "He has done a superb job. This is a hospital that has flourished under his leadership."
Memorial Hermann had some bumps in the first years after the merger, Self said. Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, which oversees the hospital, decided to cut funding in 1998 for a 650-physician primary-care network that was established at Hermann five years earlier. At the time, a spokeswoman said financial losses were a consideration in ending the network.
Since then, the hospital has enjoyed success because of its connection with the sprawling Texas Medical Center, Houston, and has built its reputation as a teaching facility, Self said. "They have always been on the cutting edge," he said. Eastham was especially savvy with financial numbers because of his background as a certified public accountant, Self said.
Eastham came to Memorial Hospital Southwest in 1994 as CEO after leaving St. Paul Medical Center, Dallas, where he was executive vice president and CEO.
Another defining moment of Eastham's tenure was the evacuation of 570 patients when Tropical Storm Allison struck the area in 2001. The hospital, which hosts one of the city's Level I trauma centers, shut its doors when the storm disrupted power, water and phone services.
Memorial Hermann Healthcare System reported $400 million in total losses at the hospital because of floodwaters from the storm. Overall, the system incurred about $2 billion in damages at its nine hospitals, prompting the system to produce a 10-minute video depicting the evacuation in an attempt to gain support and funding for repair work.