GASTONIA -- Randall Kelley, president and chief executive officer of Gastonia-based CaroMont Health, has been fired, it was announced Tuesday.
The action came following a lengthy board of directors’ meeting Monday night that stretched from 5 p.m. until after 11 p.m. Directors voted 8-2 to terminate Kelley’s contract. One member abstained from voting.
CaroMont Chief Operating Officer Douglas Luckett was named interim president and CEO.
Board Chairman Spurgeon Mackie, who didn't vote, said the termination "wasn't an easy decision" but was necessary to address concerns of CaroMont employees and the medical community.
"We feel this will help us move in the right direction," he said.
Kelley was named CEO of the Gastonia hospital in November 2011, replacing Valinda Rutledge, who had left five months earlier for a position with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Kelley had earned high marks in his role as senior vice president with Inova Health System in Falls Church, Va.
But Kelley had come under fire in recent days from some board members over an effort to rebrand the former Gaston Memorial Hospital. Officials announced the hospital would change its name to CaroMont and would adopt a promotional slogan “Cheat Death.”
Last week, the chair of the Gaston Board of County Commissioners called for the resignation of two members of the county hospital system’s board of trustees who are related to employees of a company hired to rebrand the former Gaston Memorial Hospital.
And commissioners say they’re also concerned about physician complaints that the current CaroMont administration has created an environment that is detrimental to Gaston citizens.
According to Tracy Philbeck, vice chair of the county commissioners, about 20 doctors have resigned, and “I’ve been told that’s because of decisions by the current administration.”
The recent outcry over the “Cheat Death” tagline “pulled back a scab that showed deeper problems with management than any of us knew,” Philbeck said.
Many doctors are afraid to speak their minds on the subject for “fear of retaliation by this administration,” he said.
An anonymous letter from a doctor detailed the resignation of 20 full-time “hospitalists” dedicated to serving the medical community.
The writer said this left the hospital with “a grossly understaffed hospitalist staff and now we are operating in an unsafe environment.”
Describing the rebranding of the hospital as a strong-arm attempt, the doctor wrote, “this is truly just one symptom of an administration out of control.”
Philbeck said that calls he’s getting from doctors and nurses about the hospital “not being safe is cause for alarm.”
A CaroMont representative said “the accusations and rumors are false. CaroMont’s nearly 4,000 employees and physicians continue to care for patients with the same quality care and compassion that they have come to know and expect.”
The rebranding issue focuses on two members of CaroMont Health’s board of trustees – Chairman Spurgeon Mackie and David Smith.
Smith’s son, David Smith Jr., is the co-founder of Chapel Hill-based Immortology, the marketing firm the hospital hired to oversee its $2.5 million rebranding. Immortology also employs Haddon Mackie, the daughter of Spurgeon Mackie.
Hospital spokeswoman Dallas Paddon said that hospital administrators – not the board of trustees – made the decision to hire Immortology. She said CaroMont’s professional relationship with Immortology “posed no conflict of interest.”
“They and other firms were interviewed prior to making a hiring decision,” Paddon said. “We chose to work with this company based solely on their proven track record in successfully transforming and reviving companies’ brands.”
Immortology was hired to help rebrand the hospital system in a county with a health ranking of 81st among North Carolina’s 100 counties. It’s unclear how much of the cost of the campaign goes to the marketing company.
The campaign included a controversial name change for Gaston Memorial Hospital, which is now CaroMont Regional Medical Center. The hospital system also introduced a controversial slogan: “Cheat Death.”
The slogan, which has since been killed, was widely criticized and made national news.
The private, nonprofit Gaston Memorial Hospital was established in 1946. The county owns the buildings and land and leases the property to CaroMont for $1 per year.