Gary Mecklenburg, one of the nation's most prominent not-for-profit hospital system chief executive officers, added his name to a growing list of high-profile hospital executives announcing their retirements recently.
The board of Chicago's Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, the parent of 744-bed Northwestern Memorial Hospital, last week revealed that the Mecklenburg, 59, would retire Sept. 1 and be replaced by Dean Harrison, 51, who also had followed Mecklenburg as the hospital's president and CEO in 2002. Mecklenburg was hospital CEO from 1985 through 2002, having replaced David Everhart, who died Jan. 1 (See below). Harrison joined Northwestern in 1998 as senior vice president and is the former president and chief operating officer of the University of Chicago Health System.
Mecklenburg is one of a handful of nationally recognized hospital executives leaving office in recent months. Thomas Werner, 59, announced he would resign Jan. 1, 2007, as president and CEO of Adventist Health System in Winter Park, Fla., and Joseph Zaccagnino retired last year at age 59 as president and CEO of Yale-New Haven (Conn.) Hospital after serving there for 35 years. Robert Pallari, the former CEO of Legacy Health System in Portland, Ore., stepped down in October at 56.
"These are high-quality, high-performing executives," said Jordan Hadelman, chairman and CEO of the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer. "And these are tough jobs requiring an incredible amount of stamina. People reassess their priorities in their late 50s and early 60s. These guys still have productive work years left and still have some career shelf life in them."
John Self, CEO of the executive search firm JohnMarch Partners, said increased executive compensation, fatter retirement plans and more generous benefit programs have given senior hospital executives the freedom and flexibility to retire earlier.
Some retired CEOs can earn a lucrative, yet flexible, career as hospital consultants, filling in as interim CEOs (Oct. 18, 2004, p. 6).
Mecklenburg said he won't announce his plans until after his retirement in September.
He has been a voice for hospitals on state and national stages for decades, advocating improved healthcare information technology, less government regulation and increased funding for workforce development. In 2001, he chaired the American Hospital Association, and, in 1994, he chaired the Illinois Hospital Association. He now chairs the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council, Health Forum and the Healthcare Research and Development Institute. He is a board member of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, the National Alliance for Health Information Technology and the National Center for Healthcare Leadership.
But Mecklenburg also has been a target. He sits on the boards of for-profit companies Becton, Dickinson & Co., Cogent Healthcare and Regency Healthcare, which made him a lightning rod for criticism because some of those companies have contracts to sell goods or services to Northwestern. Mecklenburg defended the practice, saying it broadened his executive experience and sharpened his skills.
Those who worked with Mecklenburg spoke positively of his tenure. "We are clearly indebted to Gary for 20 years of remarkable leadership, exceptional vision and unwavering commitment," said Northwestern Memorial HealthCare Chairman Edward Liddy in a news release.