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Westfields readies for change at the top

After some 20 years of leadership at Westfields Hospital, Chief Executive Officer Jean Needham is beginning a transition period to a new position with the organization.

Over the next few months, according to Westfields Hospital Board Chairman Jeff Redmon, Needham will become the new community liaison officer. She will work both for the hospital and its foundation to enhance the public's interaction with the organizations.

Redmon said it was Needham's decision to leave her CEO post and take on a new challenge.

"I'm excited about Jean's new role," Redmon said. "She will make sure that we're more connected to the community and that we're more engaged with the community."

Redmon said the community and hospital have benefitted a great deal over the past 20 years from Needham's leadership. Not only has she led the facility through numerous building projects, Needham has also served with many community organizations to improve the quality of life in the New Richmond area.

"There are so many things that Jean Needham has done for this community," Redmon said. Her involvement in the community will continue in her new position, Redmon predicted, and may even grow as she has more time for such things.

As for a new CEO at Westfields, Redmon said a recruitment process has begun and a search committee will soon be appointed. A replacement should be in place within two to three months, he said.

"We won't hurry it," Redmon said. "This will be seen as a very attractive spot for many candidates. It will literally be a nationwide search for a replacement."

Officials with HealthPartners, which purchased the New Richmond hospital in 2006, pledged to support the hiring of a community-based CEO by the local board of directors. A majority of the board continues to be local residents.

"They are not being dictatorial," Redmon said. "They want somebody who is very seasoned and who is experienced in running hospitals. They will not just be a figurehead."

As the local hospital heads into its next chapter, Redmon said he hopes Westfields is finished with a toughest stretch of economic challenges.

In 2010, the facility had to make staff cuts due to the economic downturn, Redmon reported.

"We had a significant drop in inpatient revenue," he said. "It was precipitous. We made some rather significant cuts that caused good people to lose their jobs."

Six months prior to the local financial hit, Redmon said local officials were wondering why other hospitals were complaining about a huge drop in revenue.

"We were still making money and everything seemed fine," he said. "The world hadn't caught up to us yet."

With the economy lagging, Redmon guessed, people put off medical procedures if they were able. Westfields also saw a drop in baby deliveries, until a new obstetrics doctor was added to the clinic staff.

Even with last year's cuts, Redmon said Westfields still provides some of the best hospital care around.

"We still have care that is superior to our peers," he said.

With the start of a new year, Redmon said things are already looking up at the hospital. The facility saw a huge increase in inpatient visits in January.

The hospital board has budgeted for no increase in revenue for 2011, just in case, Redmon said. But if numbers continue to climb, additional staff may need to be hired.