Less than a year after Sentara Healthcare and Cone Health scrapped their planned merger, both CEOs behind the failed deal are either gone or on the way out.
Norfolk, Virginia-based Sentara announced Friday that Howard Kern plans to step down by the end of the year, although he'll stay on as long as it takes to find his successor. An ad hoc committee of the system's board is launching a CEO search that it expects to wrap up before the end of 2022.
Cone's former CEO, Terry Akin, left the system in June 2021, about a week after after Sentara and Cone called off the merger that would have formed an $11 billion, 17-hospital system. Akin had announced his pending departure for "personal reasons" five months earlier, but pledged to stay on until the merger closed.
Kern has been Sentara's CEO since 2016. He started working for the not-for-profit health system in 1980 as an administrative fellow at its Norfolk General Hospital. After that, he served in several leadership roles, including chief operating officer. A Sentara spokesperson declined to share his age.
In a statement released Friday, Kern said Sentara is entering a new era in healthcare, and now is the time for new leadership.
"I will forever remain personally devoted to Sentara Healthcare and the people who make it great," he said. "I will support the board and new CEO in whatever way I can to ensure a smooth transition that assures continued success for that individual, the system and our communities."
Mergers like the one Sentara and Cone were planning consume an incredible amount of CEOs' time and attention for years because they involve combining medical records, billing, insurance contracts and other important parts of the business, said Benjamin Fenton, a partner with Fenton Law Group. For that reason, he said the deal falling through may have contributed to Kern's departure."It's an enormous amount of work," he said. "The direction of the company is basically going to have to be thrown out the window. This is speculation, but I can imagine how that could just impact morale in terms of the leadership and result in a CEO stepping down."
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