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St. Charles Board & Others React To CEO Departure

BEND, OR -- Another local leader has stepped down in the wake of the pandemic. St. Charles Board Chair Jamie Orlikoff says Joe Sluka is no longer the CEO of the health system. "So, he went on vacation to clear his mind and really reflect. And he came back and said, ‘No, I’m done.’ It was purely his decision, and we respect it," Orlikoff tells KBND News, "I mean, he was our leader for eight years; about double the average tenure of a CEO, had tremendous accomplishments." Sluka made his announcement Tuesday, effective immediately

Orlikoff says Sluka will remain indefinitely, but as a strategic advisor during the transition, "By taking the operational pressure off of him, we think - number one, that it’ll make it much easier for him to be a resource to the interim Chief Executive Officer Dr. Steve Gordon. But, number two, it’ll also give him a little space to think about the strategic implications, challenges and, if there are any in there, opportunities while Steve is digging in on operational issues." Interim CEO Dr. Steve Gordon is a former member of the St. Charles board and has an extensive healthcare leadership background. But, Orlikoff says he does not want the permanent job. 

Orlikoff expects the search for Sluka's permanent replacement to be difficult, "Around the country, CEOs are leaving at a faster rate - of hospitals and health systems - than they’ve done before. Part of that was driven by demographics. So, we were seeing a generational turnover a little bit prior to the pandemic, but we anticipated it. But the pandemic has significantly accelerated this."

 

Sluka issued this public statement Tuesday:

It is with mixed emotions that I share with you today my decision to step down as president and CEO of St. Charles Health System.  

Having served in this role for nearly eight years, I feel deeply connected to Central Oregon and the communities St. Charles has the privilege to serve. This is not an easy decision.  

At the same time, after leading through more than two years of a global pandemic and the corresponding recovery I feel it is time for me to step aside, recharge and provide the opportunity for new operational leaders to guide St. Charles forward.  

To that end, I’m happy to announce that Dr. Steve Gordon has agreed to step into the interim CEO role as I transition to a role of strategic advisor to the organization. Steve has an extensive background in health care leadership and served on the St. Charles Board of Directors from 2014 until earlier this year. His knowledge of the organization, along with his deep understanding of health care issues at the state and national level, will be a great benefit to our team. I will work closely with Steve, providing input and assistance in my capacity as strategic advisor. 

All of this is to say that St. Charles is in good hands. I know how much you, our patients and community members, rely on St. Charles to be here when you need us. While we – like health care organizations across the nation – face significant challenges, I have every confidence that St. Charles will weather this storm and continue to be your trusted choice for health care well into the future. 

When I joined the organization in 2014, I was drawn here by the bold vision statement: Creating America’s healthiest community, together. And during my tenure I am proud to say that our caregivers have done tremendous work to lead us toward that goal including:  

  • Implementation of a Lean management system focused on a culture of continuous improvement
  • Construction of a new patient tower, including state-of-the-art ICU, at St. Charles Bend
  • Transition to the Epic electronic health record platform
  • Expansions and remodels of both St. Charles Madras and St. Charles Prineville campuses
  • Expansion of services in Redmond including robotic surgery
  • Opening of additional outpatient clinics in La Pine and Bend South
  • A long list of patient safety and quality awards for hospitals and clinics throughout the system

We also met the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19 head on, providing care to critically ill patients, supporting their families, vaccinating hundreds of thousands of people, offering novel therapies – and so much more.  

Please know that these accomplishments are inspired by and in service to you.

Thank you for your support, encouragement, readership and engagement. 

Sincerely,
Joe

 

The Oregon Nurses Association represents nearly 1,200 frontline nurses working at multiple St. Charles Health facilities in Central Oregon. The ONA issued the following statement:

“We thank Joe Sluka for his service and wish him well in the next chapter of his life. He led St. Charles during an important period of expansion and change and helped build upon our reputation as an outstanding community hospital and health system. 

We appreciate the universal need among health care workers to refocus and recharge after sacrificing our time, health and safety throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We ask St. Charles’ board of directors to move quickly to incorporate local nurses and allied health care workers into its planned search for our community’s next CEO to ensure experienced voices from the frontlines of health care are represented in this significant decision.”

- Joel Hernandez, ONA Vice President and registered nurse at St. Charles Bend

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