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UNM Hospitals CEO to retire after 37 years

Steve McKernan, CEO of UNM Hospital (Source: UNM Health Sciences Center)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s only level 1 trauma center and academic medical center is going to need a new leader.

University of New Mexico Hospitals CEO Steve McKernan is retiring on Oct. 1 after 37 years with the hospital. A Health Sciences Center spokeswoman could not immediately provide details about how or when UNM would choose McKernan’s permanent replacement, though the school has selected administrator Michael Chicarelli to serve as interim CEO.

Journal attempts to reach McKernan on Tuesday afternoon were unsuccessful. But UNM’s announcement indicated the CEO is eager to spend more time with his wife, his four kids and their families scattered around the United States.

“I must say that working with the staff of UNM Hospitals and the faculty and leadership of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences Center has been the job of a lifetime,” McKernan said in the written statement. “I am very fortunate to have found a professional home and a family at the Health Sciences Center. I look forward to watching the hospital, the Health System and the Health Sciences Center, continue to grow.”

And McKernan, who started at UNMH in 1980 as an accountant, is not severing all ties this fall: He plans to stay around as emeritus CEO through the end of the fiscal year, June 30, and continue in a consultant capacity as needed beyond that, according to the announcement issued Tuesday by the UNM Health Sciences Center.

His retirement comes amid the school’s latest push to build a new hospital – a facility administrators say is needed to replace outdated and inefficient adult-care units at its existing hospital. A similar effort died about five years ago when the Gov. Susana Martinez-led State Board of Finance – which must OK such construction projects – failed to hold a vote on the proposal.

UNM’s latest effort remains in the early stages.

HSC Chancellor Paul Roth in a statement credited McKernan for helping “to grow UNM Hospitals to provide the level and specialties of care that are only available in the biggest teaching hospitals in the country.”

Tuesday’s news caught some people in the health care realm by surprise, including New Mexico Hospital Association President Jeff Dye. He said he was “kind of shocked.”

“I just feel it’s going to be a tremendous loss to our health care community,” Dye said. “Others will step up, and we have a lot of experienced people throughout the state running health care institutions, but Steve’s really been a mainstay and guiding light for many of us that have been involved with him through the years.”

Mel Eaves, a former UNM regent who later served on the Health Sciences Center board of directors, said he also was surprised about McKernan’s decision, but lauded him as a “brilliant manager.”

“And to be brilliant in that job, you not only have to know health care and the operation of hospitals and a lot about the medical profession, but you have to be very, very smart when it comes to finance and accounting – and he had it all,” Eaves said.

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