TAMPA — Tampa General Hospital CEO Jim Burkhart, who led the region's largest safety-net facility for nearly four years, resigned his position Tuesday, a spokesman confirmed.
Executive vice president and chief financial officer Steve Short will serve as acting president and CEO effective immediately until a national search is held.
In a statement, TGH board of directors chairman John Brabson said he and his colleagues "appreciate all that (Burkhart) has done during his time here."
Brabson called Short, a longtime hospital employee, "the unanimous choice of the board to lead us through this transition and all the strategic initiatives we are considering."
"We are working with USF Health and others to create a world-class health care system … and are confident we will attract truly exceptional candidates to help us achieve this goal," Brabson said.
The statement did not detail the reasons for Burkhart's departure. He could not be reached for comment. By Tuesday evening, his name and photograph had been removed from Tampa General's website.
Burkhart came to Tampa General in early 2013 from Shands Jacksonville Medical Center, where he served as president and CEO. Before that, he was president of the Endeavor Health Group in Fort Lauderdale.
He had large shoes to fill. His predecessor, Ron Hytoff, oversaw the hospital's considerable expansion during his 13-year tenure. What's more, Hytoff steadied Tampa General's finances after its transition from a public hospital to a private one.
Burkhart's charge was to chart a strong financial course for the 1,011-bed facility, one of the region's last independent hospitals, and improve relations with its primary teaching partner, the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine.
Eighteen months into his tenure, Burkhart said that many of the issues with USF had been smoothed out by having improved communication. He and his counterpart at USF Health took on overlapping roles at the two institutions.
But managing the hospital's finances proved a constant challenge. Like hospitals nationwide, Tampa General saw its costs climb at a time when government reimbursement dwindled. Because the hospital is independent, it had to shoulder the financial pressures alone.
Tampa General's 3.7 percent operating margin in 2014 was an improvement from the year before, but still among the slimmest in the region, even among other nearby nonprofit hospitals, the most recent state records show.
In an effort to become more competitive, Burkhart oversaw the 2015 launch of a partnership between TGH and Florida Hospital focused on outpatient, home care and hospice services. The hospital also unveiled a virtual care app that lets patients connect with physicians through the Web.
Operations on the clinical side, meanwhile, received national recognition. In August, Tampa General was named the best hospital in the region and the third-best in Florida by U.S. News & World Report.
News of Burkhart's resignation surprised David A. Straz Jr., who quit the hospital board earlier this year after its members voted to pay themselves for their service. (They later reversed the decision.)
"I was chairman of the search committee when we hired him, and all the while, I thought he did an excellent job," Straz said Tuesday. "As far as I know, the hospital was doing very well."
A spokeswoman for USF Health declined to comment.
Contact Kathleen McGrory at [email protected] or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.