St. Vincent Health (SVH) is operating under new leadership team after months of turnover at the highest levels.
Since December, three of the hospital’s former executives have resigned and were replaced, including chief nursing officer Janae Wright, who moved out of state in June, chief financial officer Janet Perry, who resigned in December, and chief operations officer Corbin Logan, who left in January.
Other top positions such as chief medical officer and chief branding officer — roles formerly maintained by Dr. Lisa Zwerdlinger and Karen Onderdonk respectively — dissolved altogether through mutual agreements.
Former director of nursing Mike Bigley also vacated his position this year and has since been replaced. Additionally, the hospital’s human resources director position, formerly maintained by Pete Reed, is currently open.
SVH CEO Brett Antczak said he feels higher turnover during a pandemic is normal. A lot of the time people leave for personal reasons, like finding a better opportunity elsewhere, he said. For instance, Antczak said Wright left because her partner was offered a better job out of state.
But differences of opinion over scheduling and patient access procedures also factor into turnover rates.
Zwerdlinger, a long-time Lake County physician, announced her resignation as a primary care physician at SVH last week, effective Oct. 31. Zwerdlinger also served as SVH’s chief medical officer until the position was dissolved in April.
Although she intially told the Herald that she would retire from SVH, Zwerdlinger now plans to open her own direct patient care practice in Lake County starting Nov. 1.
During her time as an SVH physician, Zwerdlinger said she could not schedule and care for her patients as she believed they deserved. She’d prefer to see patients whenever they need, whether or not they have an appointment or the ability to pay right away.
“Patients weren’t happy which made me unhappy. So I want to provide another choice in Lake County for access to care.”
Unlike SVH and most regular hospitals, direct primary care practices charge a flat recurring membership fee for patients instead of billing insurance.
“My number one concern is my patients,” Zwerdlinger told the Herald. “Though I felt it was time to resign, I am not leaving Leadville and Lake County.”
This will not be the first private practice that Zwerdlinger has led. Her departure announcement arrives about a year after she merged her Rocky Mountain Family Practice (RMFP) with SVH. Zwerdlinger opened RMFP in 2004 and worked as its primary care physican for 17 years.
“My joy in being a doctor is to take care of the patient when they want to be taken care of and not only when it is convenient for the health care system,” said Zwerdlinger.
Antczak agreed with Zwerdlinger’s sentiment that finances should not be a barrier to healthcare and said patients can reach out to the SVH to apply for resources like Medicaid and reduced fee schedules. Sometimes if someone is treated in the emergency room and it’s not that serious, the hospital will bill them a lower charge.
To allow Zwerdlinger more time with patients as she desired, Antczak said the hospital dissolved the chief medical officer position and assigned the corresponding duties to the hospital’s chief of staff.
Since taking over as CEO in 2021, Antczak has shown a pattern of dissolving positions and delegating responsibilities to other places. For instance, he said some positions on the senior leadership team were unnecessary and cutting them down to four made things more efficient.
The four current executive positions are maintained by Antczak, chief nursing officer Randy Thompson, who started in June, chief financial officer Allan Scroggins, hired in March, and chief operations officer Kat Fry, who also began in June.
Despite the adjustments, Zwerdlinger still resigned. Antczak said he understands her decision because a private practice would allow her to see patients 24/7 if necessary, whereas SVH Family Health Center is not open all hours.
Some former employees have also expressed concern over SVH’s involvement in too many projects lately, instead of prioritizing basic patient care.
Antczak disagreed with these allegations. Currently, SVH is developing a new behavioral health department, genetic testing laboratory and a pharmacy in Buena Vista.
“Health care, if anything, is one of those areas that is always changing and always progressing,” said Antczak. “As the health care provider here in town, if we’re not continually trying to update, then we’re not really doing our job.”