FirstHealth CEO Plans to Retire Next Year
BY DAVID SINCLAIR
Charles Frock announced Wednesday that he plans to retire Dec. 31, 2011, as CEO of FirstHealth of the Carolinas.
Frock, 62, has been credited with propelling the Pinehurst-based health system to the forefront in regional health care delivery. He is stepping aside as FirstHealth stands on the cusp of a new era of growth.
When Frock took over as president and CEO of then Moore Regional Hospital in 1991, the foundation had already been laid for a regional network. His goal was to take it to a new level. Four years later, he helped engineer the merger of Moore Regional and Montgomery Memorial Hospital in Troy, which gave birth to FirstHealth. He became its CEO.
Since then, FirstHealth has carried out several multimillion-dollar campaigns and expanded beyond the traditional role of hospital care into such areas as hospice, dental care, community health, home care and health insurance.
"I have enjoyed my time at FirstHealth," Frock said in a release. "It is with mixed emotions my wife, Nancy, and I have come to this decision. There is never a great time for certain decisions, but I know this is the right decision at the right time."
As CEO, Frock oversees the development and coordination of FirstHealth's goals, objectives and strategic plans, and ensures that FirstHealth's core purpose, to care for people, is fulfilled.
"I am extremely proud of what has been achieved at FirstHealth, and I am thankful I had the opportunity to work with such a great team," Frock said. "The support from the management team and medical community is unprecedented. While it is always hard to leave, I am looking forward to what the next chapter in life brings."
Before he retires next year, Frock will continue to oversee the completion of several major projects that will define FirstHealth for years to come. The Reid Heart Center, Hospice Residence and the Clara McLean Hospitality House will be open before his departure. One issue that could still be in the air is the plan to build a hospital in neighboring Hoke County. FirstHealth and Cape Fear Valley Health System are locked in a legal battle over serving that county.
"Chuck has been an outstanding leader for FirstHealth," said Alex Bowness, chairman of the FirstHealth of the Carolinas board of directors. "Through his leadership and guidance, FirstHealth is and will remain a strong organization for many years to come. The board appreciates the advance notice of his decision so we can begin the process of transition and selection of a new chief executive officer."
John May, who was on the board in 1995 at the time FirstHealth of the Carolinas was formed and is a current member, said Frock has done an outstanding job.
"The growth of the system has been phenomenal, not only from the standpoint of the physical plant, but also the degree of recognition it has received from across the Southeast and the nation," May said. "The system has been successful financially at a time when many others are struggling. We couldn't have had a better person to guide us in these very challenging times. It will be a challenge to find someone with his level of talent to replace him."
Prior to joining FirstHealth, Frock was chief operating officer of Mease Health Care in Dunedin, Fla., from 1989 to 1991 and the administrator of Mease Hospital from 1986 to 1989. Previously, he was the CEO of hospitals in Valdese, Lexington and Oxford in North Carolina.
He received a bachelor's degree in industrial and systems engineering, with a minor in business administration, from the University of Florida in 1971. He went on to graduate school at Duke University, where he earned a master's degree in health administration in 1974.
Two significant events occurred while he was at Duke: He visited Moore Memorial Hospital as part of his graduate work and saw some future possibilities. He also met his future wife, who was a nurse at Duke. They married in September 1973.
Had Applied Before
Frock had applied for the top job at Moore Regional in 1989, when Crenshaw Thompson retired. But the board chose to hire from within, promoting Chris Durer.
When the hospital found itself in the market for a president and CEO in 1991, the search firm that assisted the board contacted Frock. The board hired him.
A year before Frock arrived, Moore Regional had begun its open heart surgery program, which catapulted the hospital to the status of a regional referral center. Frock, who saw regionalism as a great opportunity, was given the charge to build on that success and move forward into other new frontiers.
The area was also attracting some of the country's top specialists. For such a rural area, Moore County was developing a sophisticated medical community.
After the birth of FirstHealth in 1995, the system began seeking other opportunities to grow. It added Richmond Memorial Hospital in 2001. Headquartered in Pinehurst, the comprehensive nonprofit health system has 4,000 employees and serves 15 counties.
In addition to three hospitals with 559 licensed beds, the system has an inpatient rehabilitation center, sleep disorder centers, wound care centers, dental care clinics, a back and neck pain center, family care centers, fitness centers, laundry, charitable foundations, hospice, home health services and a wholly owned health plan. FirstHealth also operates a critical care transport service and EMS/medical transport services in four area counties.
With annual net revenue of $500 million, FirstHealth has an AA/AA- credit rating with all rating agencies, according to a news release.
"He was absolutely the right person at the right time," said former FirstHealth board member Walker Morris, who chaired the search committee in 1991. "There is no doubt that FirstHealth as it exists today, as healthy as it is, would not have been possible if it weren't for Chuck. He has the ability to look ahead at critical imes and recommend to the board what road to take when we reach those critical forks. He has great vision.
"That has made health care here so much stronger, in terms of facilities and staff and the ability for patients to receive the highest quality of care here. When you factor all of that in and you look at the growth of this area over the last 20 years, the growth of FirstHealth has probably been the one of the critical factors."
Frock is a member of numerous state and national boards and commissions. He is a past chairman of the North Carolina Hospital Association. His community service includes serving as a member of the Partners in Progress board.
He is a past chairman of the Moore County Chamber of Commerce, as well as past member of the Moore County United Way board.
He received the 2007 Cornerstone Award from the United Way of Moore County, the 2009 Builders Cup Award from the Kiwanis Club of the Sandhills, and the 2010 Distinguished Service Award from the North Carolina Hospital Association.
In a letter to FirstHealth employees and supporters, Frock shared the credit for the health system's success.
"Since coming to Pinehurst, I have had the good fortune of working with many talented and dedicated board members, outstanding physicians, and countless committed health care staff and leaders," he said in the letter. "The community has been overwhelmingly supportive, whether as volunteers, donors, or patients. We have seen much progress over the years. Our facilities are first rate and equipment is modern and state-of-the-art. Our track record for high quality clinical care and exceptional service is widely recognized.
"FirstHealth has positioned itself as a leading, comprehensive health system known for living up to its core purpose every day: to care for people. And yet, at some point, there must be a changing of the guard."
Frock said the economy and health care will "face unprecedented challenges" in the coming years.
"The full impact of health reform is only a few years away, and the pressures will not go away, regardless of politics in Washington or Raleigh," he said. "Preparing for this transformational change will take a strong organizational platform (which we have), a strong, stable team of leaders and a clear sense of strategic direction. And so, now is the time to embark on an orderly, inclusive process to select that next leader for FirstHealth.
"With a comprehensive strategic planning process expected to be completed early next year, a road map for our future and assessment of our leadership needs will exist. ... So, as these inevitable changes begin to take hold, FirstHealth will be well-prepared to take our patient care services and organizational performance to even higher heights, whatever our circumstances.
"And so, I thank you and those before you for the opportunity to have served such a tremendous organization with so many capable and dedicated individuals. Finally, I am proud of what we have accomplished together, will work hard to ensure a smooth and seamless transition and look forward to FirstHealth's continued success for many years to come."
Contact David Sinclair at email@example.com.
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