Saturday, December 16, 2017
Health

With Bayfront Health on firmer footing, CEO Kathryn Gillette plans to retire

ST. PETERSBURG — After four years at the helm of the city's largest hospital, Bayfront Health St. Petersburg chief executive officer Kathryn Gillette is retiring, she told the Tampa Bay Times.

Her last day will be in early August.

"This was the job that I wanted to end my career with," she said.

TIMES PROFILE: Gillette faced health care challenges

Gillette, 62, was named CEO at a pivotal moment in Bayfront's 110-year history. Before she came on board, the hospital was an independent, not-for-profit institution hemorrhaging nearly $1 million a month. In April 2013, it sold to the for-profit hospital chain Health Management Associates.

Gillette led Bayfront through the transition — and stayed in the top job when it sold to still another for-profit chain, the Tennessee-based Community Health Systems.

The hospital steadied its finances, both by cutting costs and joining a regional network of seven hospitals, a move that helped increase patient volumes. Its most recent financial disclosure showed an 8 percent operating margin.

What's more, in the last four years, Bayfront has invested more than $81 million in infrastructure, equipment and technology. An expansion of the emergency department and trauma center is underway, as are renovations to the neurosciences department.

"It's been a noticeable change, and very much an improvement," said Michael A. Brown, who chairs Bayfront's board of directors.

Dr. Trina Espinola, a head and neck surgeon who served two terms as the hospital's chief of staff, praised Gillette for helping Bayfront transition to electronic medical records and electronic orders.

"She has been an excellent leader and voice of reason," Espinola said.

Before coming to Bayfront, Gillette spent 13 years at hospitals in the for-profit chain HCA, including what is now called the Medical Center of Trinity. She also spent five years in top finance positions at Tampa General Hospital, steering that hospital through its transition from public to private, not-for-profit status.

At Bayfront, Gillette forged a partnership with the University of South Florida that brought physicians in key medical and surgical specialties to south Pinellas County.

Times files

Kathryn Gillette at Bayfront in 2013.

She came under scrutiny when charity care dipped in 2015 — something community leaders feared might happen when Bayfront became part of a for-profit chain. But last week, Gillette told the St. Petersburg City Council that charity care rose to $65 million in 2016 — a $16 million jump from 2015.

In recent months, Gillette led a dogged fight to block the HCA-run Northside Hospital from opening a trauma center just miles away. She argued that having another trauma center so close by would cause patient volumes to drop, ultimately hurting the quality of care.

In an interview Monday, Gillette said she was "immensely proud" of what she and her team had accomplished in just four years. "I hope people feel a sense of security about the hospital," she said.

Moving forward, Bayfront will continue to face financial challenges, including an $8.5 million cut in state funding next year. Any changes to Medicaid, Medicare or the Affordable Care Act could also hurt the hospital's bottom line.

In addition, its corporate owner recorded a net loss of $1.7 billion last year — and has been selling off some hospitals.

Brown said the next CEO will need to be somebody with "enough experience and strength to be able to carry the mission forward." The board is already working with Community Health Systems to find its next leader, he added.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at [email protected] or (727) 893-8330. Follow @kmcgrory.

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