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Search for new CEO for UNMH may take months

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The University of New Mexico Hospital is losing its longtime CEO in a matter of weeks, but it will likely take several months to choose his successor.

Since Steve McKernan’s August announcement that he would retire this fall, UNM has had discussions with an executive search firm and begun forming a local search committee to help determine who will take his place. Still, finding the next leader of UNMH – the state’s only Level 1 trauma center and academic medical center – should extend well into 2018.

“We’re hoping we’ll have somebody on the ground here by July,” Dr. Paul Roth, chancellor of UNM’s Health Sciences Center, said last week.

McKernan formally retires Oct. 1 after 37 years at the hospital, including the last 21 as CEO; however, he is not leaving immediately.

Roth said McKernan will remain at full salary for the remainder of October in an “emeritus” role to smooth the transition to interim CEO Michael Chicarelli. Chicarelli now serves as an administrator for professional and support services.

UNM, meanwhile, is working to find its next permanent hospital CEO.

It is planning to hire Illinois-based executive search firm Witt/Kieffer to help, though a contract has not been finalized, according to an HSC spokeswoman. The Journal has requested a copy of the contract when it becomes available.

Roth is also convening a local search committee to aid in the hunt. It will include representatives from inside and outside the university.

He expects the committee and search firm to meet later this month to refine the search process.

To guide their efforts, Roth is currently crafting a “leadership statement” to better define the CEO position based on current and future needs and the evolving health care picture. He said he has sought input from hospital trustees, faculty, administrators and others across the local health care spectrum.

“We’re trying to have an understanding, or some consensus, on what role UNM Hospital will be playing in our state, in our county and in our health system,” he said. “Armed with that, we’ll be able to identify the personal characteristics and skill sets that we would hope to have (in) the next CEO of UNM Hospital.”

McKernan earns $517,591 annually to oversee UNMH – a facility that handles 93,000 emergency visits and 491,000 outpatient visits annually, according to its website. Roth said the salary is low by industry standards.

“It’s going to be tough to find somebody with (McKernan’s) salary,” he said. “We’re going to try.”

McKernan will rejoin UNMH in fiscal year 2019 in a part-time, advisory role to assist with special projects, Roth said.