Health System names new president

LAWRENCEVILLE - After a nearly nine-month search, Gwinnett's community hospital system has a new leader.

Philip Wolfe is slated to take the reins at Gwinnett Health System Inc. on March 13. He got the nod after a unanimous vote Monday by the 15-member Board of Directors.

The 54-year-old was president and CEO of the 391-bed Enloe Medical Center in Chico, Calif. He also was managing day-to-day affairs at Enloe Health System's outpatient facilities and rural hospitals in the Butte County region north of Sacramento.

Wolfe will make $500,000 a year and up to $250,000 annually in additional benefits to run Gwinnett Health System, said Board Chairman Wayne Sikes. Wolfe will probably receive at least a two-year contract, though final details must be ironed out.

"I'm thrilled to get a guy of Philip Wolfe's caliber," Sikes said. "He is going to lead the top community hospital system in the state and one of the top in the Southeast."

Wolfe takes over a system whose hospitals were recently honored for clinical care ranked among the best in the nation. Wolfe will also face the challenges of running a nonprofit health care system in metro Atlanta's highly competitive market.

Gwinnett Health System wants to carry out a building plan over the next five to 10 years that includes at least 100 new beds at Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville.

The System is also nearing the final construction stage on the new Gwinnett Medical Center Duluth. The hospital opens this summer, but for-profit Emory Johns Creek hospital is being built just five miles away in one of the wealthiest sections of metro Atlanta.

Wolfe replaces Frank Rinker, who was fired in May after he and the board could not work out his retirement.

Rinker, who ran the community hospital system over two decades, made $350,000 in 2005 and will do so again this year as part of his severance. Wolfe was offered a higher salary in his first year because the system had no other choice, Sikes aid.

"We found the top guy and we had to be able to lure him away," he said. "This is the right amount for the market."

Gwinnett Health System - criticized for being a community hospital system that sometimes didn't work well with public officials - took an all-inclusive approach in its CEO search.

It sought opinions from business and government leaders like Gwinnett Chamber President Jim Maran and Gwinnett Board of Commissioners Chairman Charles Bannister.

Both men met CEO candidates and gave their thoughts on the finalists.

The new approach was spurred by a series of meetings last year between local business and civic leaders who were considering a possible tax increase as one of several ways to fund hospital expansion and improvements.

"We had to let the community know it's their hospital system," Sikes said. "We wanted to bring them into the process."