Pushed or Promoted? 

What really happened at Baptist?

What really happened at Baptist?

Baptist Hospital announced July 21 that its controversial president and chief executive officer, C. David Stringfield, is getting a new job.

Effective Oct. 1, Stringfield will become chairman of the hospital’s Board of Trustees. He will be replaced as president and CEO of Nashville’s largest not-for-profit hospital by Erie Chapman, a veteran health-care executive from Ohio.

According to a statement distributed by Baptist Hospital, Stringfield, president of the hospital since 1982, recommended the change in management and hand-picked Chapman as his successor. But it remains unclear whether Stringfield is a willing participant in the restructuring or whether he’s being ousted in a thus-far bloodless palace coup.

Stringfield declined the Nashville Scene’s requests for an interview, and none of the seven members of the board’s executive committee would publicly discuss the restructuring. In response to a list of questions submitted by the Scene this week, Baptist Hospital spokeswoman Debby Koch provided a written statement from the executive committee’s vice-chairman, Ken Ross, describing Stringfield’s new job as “not only a promotion” but “a distinct honor.” According to the statement, management changes at the hospital were implemented at Stringfield’s “instigation and recommendation.”

However, knowledgeable sources in Nashville’s health-care community are convinced Stringfield is not making the job change of his own accord. “The board has apparently come to the conclusion that Stringfield, as CEO, has become an obstacle to what they are trying to achieve,” said Joshua Nemzoff, president of Nemzoff & Company, a Nashville-based firm that specializes in mergers and acquisitions in the hospital industry. “Nothing about how the succession from Stringfield to Chapman has transpired fits the typical pattern of a hospital chief executive voluntarily stepping aside.”

One board member confirmed reports that, after the restructuring, Stringfield will not sit on the board’s executive committee, which, in essence, runs the hospital. A local health-care executive intimately familiar with Baptist Hospital said it is highly unlikely that Stringfield would, of his own accord, refuse to take a seat on the executive committee if he had the opportunity to do so.

This much is certain: On the morning of July 21, the Board of Trustees’ executive committee met in the marble-floored Paschall Board Room in Baptist Hospital’s Stringfield Building. Later that morning, the full board gathered in the same room. At that meeting, some board members said, members of the executive committee led them to believe that Stringfield was voluntarily participating in the restructuring.

In a hastily called meeting at 5 p.m. the same day, Stringfield and Chapman met with senior hospital administrators in the auditorium of the hospital’s Gladys Stringfield Owen Education Center. At the late-afternoon meeting, according to one source, Stringfield emphasized that the new management structure was his own idea. “It looks like a classic case of ‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks,’ ” said one Stringfield detractor. Shortly after news of the restructuring became public on July 21, some Baptist Hospital doctors reportedly were cheering in the hospital hallways.

In the wake of the official announcement, Baptist marshaled its forces. Mike Pigott, a principal in McNeely Pigott & Fox, the public-relations firm that advises the hospital, was pulled away from a company retreat and summoned to the hospital. Late that afternoon, Baptist issued its statement that Stringfield was voluntarily stepping down from his job as the hospital’s president and CEO. By 7 o’clock on Wednesday morning, Stringfield, a notoriously late riser, was already calling Baptist Hospital doctors and administrators to assure them that the change of position was his idea.

Several factors may have contributed to Stringfield’s sudden departure from the helm at Baptist.

He has been widely blamed for the failure of Baptist’s merger negotiations with other local hospitals. Talks with Vanderbilt University Medical Center ran aground in 1996, and negotiations with St. Thomas Hospital were scuttled earlier this year. Reliable sources at Vanderbilt and St. Thomas say Stringfield’s unusual management style and outsized ego made it virtually impossible for either hospital to strike a deal with Baptist.

The Hunter Group, a St. Petersberg, Fla.-based health-care consulting company, was recently hired to provide an outside evaluation of the hospital’s performance. When doctors complained to the Hunter consultants about Stringfield’s management style and tactics, Stringfield reportedly told The Hunter Group its consultants were no longer to interview Baptist physicians.

The Nashville Scene has learned that a Hunter Group representative met with the Baptist board for approximately 10 minutes on the morning of July 21. That meeting, in and of itself, suggested a change of procedure. “When Stringfield was in charge, he orchestrated those board meetings down to the minute,” said a health-care consultant familar with procedures at the hospital. “No outsiders were ever allowed to speak. The fact that Hunter was even in the board meeting is proof that Stringfield is no longer being allowed to call the shots.”

Another factor may be Stringfield’s health, which, he has confided to friends, has caused him to consider scaling back his obligations. As well, his long-term career goals may have come into play. For some time, he has sought to wean himself from day-to-day management responsibilities at Baptist.

After his change in position, Stringfield will keep an office at the hospital. Although his wood-paneled offices are now located in the Stringfield Building, sources at Baptist say his new office will be located in another building on the hospital campus. Hospital spokeswoman Debby Koch said she did not know what Stringfield would be paid in his new job.


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