Ross leads MU hospitals

MU Health Care’s new director hopes to continue profitability.
Thursday, April 8, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:36 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

After sharing his office for a week, James “Jim” Ross, the new executive director of MU Health Care, will have his own workspace, beginning next week.

Ross, who began his new job April 1, is replacing David Coats, the outgoing executive director from the Hunter Group, a consulting firm hired in September 2002 to lift MU Health Care out of the red. Coats is leaving the post April 15.

Ross will oversee the administration of the hospitals and clinics owned or operated by the system, including University Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Columbia Regional Hospital and Ellis Fischel Cancer Center. Ross, who comes from Greenville, N.C., where he served as president and chief operating officer for the University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina, will earn $350,000 a year.

“The team of folks — the staff, administrative staff, the physicians I have met and university staff — were really the draw here,” Ross said.

At a press conference Wednesday, Ross said he will continue the course set by the Hunter Group, which reported an $8.4 million profit for MU Health Care in fiscal year 2003. The system had suffered $5.5 million in losses in 2002.

Ross said he plans to continue carrying out 500 specific recommendations the Hunter Group made to the UM Board of Curators. About 80 percent of those recommendations have been implemented, said Coats, who expressed confidence that he leaves MU Health Care in good hands. “One of the things I was impressed with was the depth and amount of experience Jim has had in health care and particularly academic health care,” Coats said.

Although Coats is leaving, Hank Wells, the Hunter Group’s chief financial officer, will remain to help Ross with the transition. Wells’ contract expires at the end of 2004, although the length of his stay depends on the how the transition goes, Coats said.

“The tasks that remain are part of the latter stages of the process,” Coats said. “I don’t see any major upheaval or uproar in terms of what is left to do.”

Coats and Ross both said the system’s balance sheet remains in “distress,” and will stay that way for another two or three years. But Coats stressed that concerns about layoffs and the sale of MU Health Care assets, which were mentioned as possibilities when the Hunter Group was first brought in, should be put to rest.

“We are anticipating no layoffs between now and Wednesday,” Coats said, “or anytime after Wednesday, either.”

Ross, who helped expand the University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina from one hospital to six, enters his job with optimism.

“There is a commitment to do something very special with health care in mid-Missouri,” Ross said. “It’s about taking care of patients and families, but it’s about education too, about research and partnerships with the School of Medicine.”

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