Warner Thomas, who as CEO of Ochsner Health has spearheaded an aggressive expansion across the region and helped grow the healthcare system to the largest in Louisiana, resigns to take the top spot in a network. hospital based in California.
Thomas will become president and CEO of Sutter Health in Sacramento, Ochsner announced on Tuesday. Ochsner CFO Pete November, 52, has been appointed by Ochsner’s board of directors as Thomas’ permanent successor. He takes the reins on November 1st.
During his 10-year tenure as CEO, Thomas led Ochsner’s growth from a largely New Orleans area-centric four-hospital system to a Gulf Coast health center with 26 owned hospitals and over 2,300 physicians. .
The nonprofit organization employs around 36,000 people, up from 14,000 when Thomas took the helm. He also has affiliation agreements with 16 additional hospitals and management contracts with six others, which give him a foothold in 48 communities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
In addition to expanding Ochsner’s geographic footprint, Thomas pushed the organization towards new product lines, particularly in digital medicine and telemedicine, and helped refer thousands of new patients to Ochsner through the acquisition of group medical studies.
In early 2020, when New Orleans became a coronavirus hotspot, Thomas was part of a group of hospital executives who met with former President Donald Trump to ask for more protective equipment. The system was also a key cog in the distribution of vaccines as they became available.
“It’s bittersweet because I have good memories with Ochsner and we’ve done amazing things as a team,” said Thomas. “But this is a really great opportunity. It doesn’t have to do with a problem in Ochsner. It’s just a big network, in an interesting market, and an opportunity to do something different on a larger scale. ”
Sutter Health is California’s second largest healthcare system and is much larger than Ochsner in many respects, with approximately 12,000 doctors, 53,000 employees, and over $ 14 billion in revenue in 2021.
Ochsner’s revenues, by comparison, amount to about $ 6.5 billion from the 26 Ochsner-owned hospitals and $ 8 billion if revenue from affiliated facilities is included, Ochsner officials said.
“I will be 57 in November and see this as an opportunity to make a difference in a different market and help them continue to evolve as an organization,” said Thomas, who was recruited by Sutter earlier this year through research. of executives. “It’s a bigger market and I think the ability to create digital capabilities, given their proximity to Silicon Valley, is an interesting opportunity.”
Thomas came to Ochsner in 1998 from his native New Hampshire to be Chief Operating Officer of the Ochsner Clinic, which, at the time, was a separate corporate entity from Ochsner Hospital. After the hospital and clinic merged in 2001, he became president and chief operating officer of the combined entity, then known as the Ochsner Health System. He was appointed CEO in September 2012.
During those 24 years, healthcare, both locally and nationally, underwent epic changes that included the consolidation of more independent hospitals into fewer large systems; the passage of the Affordable Care Act; the growth of telemedicine; skyrocketing price increases; and, a shift by insurance companies to place greater emphasis on health outcomes.
Thomas developed a national reputation for leaning on those changes and capitalizing on them, trying to keep up with the curves that were rocking the system.
“Thomas has been a major driver of Ochsner’s regional growth,” said Nate Kaufman, a San Diego-based health consultant who has worked with health systems across the country. “Before Thomas, Ochsner was basically a health care system based in New Orleans. Today they are clearly seen as a powerhouse and probably the main health system in the region ”.
That strong position, while working to Ochsner’s advantage, has not always been appreciated by competitors.
“In some markets they have entered, people are threatened by them,” said Kaufman. “They are very big, they have a good reputation in the industry and they can break the status quo.”
Thomas was well compensated by the nonprofit. In 2020, his compensation package amounted to nearly $ 6.8 million, according to tax returns.
Ochsner officials have not answered questions about how much he will be paid in November in his new role. In 2020, he was the second highest paid employee in the system after Thomas, with a total salary package of nearly $ 2.3 million.
Despite Thomas’ enormous influence on the system, both he and November have said the transition process will be smooth. November, a Kentucky native and health care attorney, has been with Ochsner since October 2012 and has been alongside Thomas helping negotiate the system’s many acquisitions over the past decade.
He joined Ochsner from LHC Group, one of the nation’s largest home care providers, where he served as general counsel and chief of acquisitions. Prior to that, November spent 14 years with the Atlanta-based Alton & Bird law firm, where he specialized in complex healthcare transactions.
“I’ve had great opportunities from Warner and the board over the past 10 years to prepare for this and I feel well prepared,” said November, who said he will continue to advance the board’s vision of strategic growth.
There are no substantial changes in leadership or personnel.
“I think the thing we’re excited about is that our team will stay in place,” said November. “We are sad to see Warner go, but the team is stable and will continue.”
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify the number of hospitals owned and affiliated with Ochsner.