Brent Phillips’ abrupt departure as Regional Health president and CEO, following a unanimous vote by the not-for-profit health care system's board of directors Tuesday night, was the result of what board chairperson Lia Green would describe only as “a personnel issue.”
“I’m really not at liberty to go into details,” Green told reporters at a Wednesday news conference called to address the move. “I’m sure you all understand that.”
A Wednesday morning news release from Regional Health said the board of directors had named Paulette Davidson as acting president and chief executive officer of Regional Health, with Phillips, the former president and CEO, stepping down, effective immediately.
Green said the 12-member board voted to no longer retain Phillips, who had a year left on his contract.
Phillips had been head of Regional Health — the largest private employer in western South Dakota, operating five hospitals and 24 clinic locations employing nearly 5,000 physicians and caregivers — since Jan. 1, 2015.
Prior to coming to Rapid City, he served as vice president for Medical Group operations for Aurora Health Care in Wisconsin and as president of Greater Milwaukee South.
Davidson has also been with Regional Health since 2015, serving as Regional Health Chief Operating Officer. She was later named president of Rapid City Hospital and the Rapid City market. The health system also operates in Sturgis, Custer, Deadwood and other western South Dakota locations.
Davidson said Wednesday the hospital leadership would continue to maintain high health care standards for all of its patients and also “take care” she said, of all its caregivers.
Green and Davidson praised Phillips, who did not attend Wednesday’s news briefing, for his leadership over the past three-plus years.
“I worked very closely with Brent. I learned a great deal with him. I’m thankful for his leadership. Now we’re going to take it to the next step,” Davidson said.
“We have great confidence in Paulette, along with our current leadership team, excellent providers and dedicated caregivers to lead Regional Health into the next era of community health care. In addition, we are committed to working with the communities we serve to meet the health care needs of the Black Hills and beyond,” Green said.
Prior to joining Regional Health, Davidson held executive roles with Nebraska Medicine (Omaha, Neb.), Cancer Treatment Centers of America (Arlington Heights, Ill.) and Indiana University Health Goshen Hospital.
Davidson has an MBA from the University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business in South Bend, Ind., and a bachelor's in business administration from the University of Wisconsin.
Regional Health has seen growth under Phillips' leadership, among examples completed or planned is new construction or expansion of hospitals and clinics in Sturgis, Custer and Spearfish
But Phillips’ tenure has also been a stormy one.
Nearly 100 doctors at Regional Health Rapid City Hospital called for Phillips’ removal in April, 2017, after a "vote of no confidence" in his leadership held by Regional medical staff. The board of directors for Regional Health expressed "full confidence" in Phillips with a vote less than a month later, however.
Phillips responded to the intial vote saying it was disappointing but not surprising and said he is "committed to continuing the work we started."
Green said on Wednesday the vote of no confidence played no role in Phillips’ ouster.
Also in 2017, Rapid City Hospital changed its admission policies for people suffering from mental illness. The hospital announced it would no longer admit patients suffering from mental illness who haven't been injured if its behavioral health center is full, and instead contact the Pennington County Sheriff's Office to take them into custody. The move sparked a large outcry and ultimately a West River Behavioral Health Alliance was formed.
Others have questioned the health system's allocations of resources.
Regional Health started building several new facilities, including a phased expansion of the emergency department, a new front entrance and a second covered parking garage. Also under construction is a new Advanced Orthopedic and Sports Institute being built at Buffalo Crossing near the intersection of Catron Blvd. and Mount Rushmore Road.
Green said many of the plans currently being implemented at Regional Health were implemented as part of a master strategic plan put in place before Phillips’ hiring.
Most recently, the Rapid City Journal uncovered that Regional Hospital has been mixing their medical waste with their common trash. Despite repeated city warnings, the issue lingered for more than a year.
After the Journal story was published, Regional changed several trash handling processes, and they are now in compliance according to the city.