After pledging to leave May 1 but instead answering the call of COVID-19 duty, Eric Lewis is moving on from the top job at Olympic Medical Center and returning to his professional roots.
Lewis said last week that by Sept. 1, he will be the chief financial officer, a position he had held at OMC, for the Washington State Hospital Association.
The Sequim resident’s last day at OMC is Monday, June 1, after 13 1/3 years as chief executive officer, and after previously saying he would leave May 1 but coming back for another month to help OMC weather the pandemic.
Not that Lewis’ new job was a secret.
The hospital association announced the hire May 7, leaving Lewis — a former WSHA board chair — to scramble to let OMC staff know of his new position and making him unavailable for interviews until after Wednesday’s hospital commissioners meeting.
Cassie Sauer, WSHA president and chief executive officer, said in a May 14 interview that part of Lewis’ role will be coordinating the organization’s $18 million budget, minuscule by comparison to OMC’s $220 million spending plan.
A big part of the former OMC chief financial officer’s new job falls right in Lewis’ wheelhouse.
He will be helping WSHA’s 110 member hospitals navigate “public financial pieces that affect hospital financial health,” Sauer said.
“He’s really deeply passionate and knowledgeable about public policy and he knows everything there is to know about hospital finance.
“It’s a perfect combination, and he’s well known and respected by members from across the state, so they are thrilled.”
By the night of the board meeting, commissioners and staff were armed with praise for a man who turned down other hospital CEO opportunities and who, in typical Eric Lewis fashion, said he would be there for the hospital after June 1, albeit in a different capacity.
“OMC will be one of my members,” Lewis told the board. “I still work for you.”
Lewis, 58, who grew up outside San Jose, Calif. in a town the size of Sequim, moved to Selah at age 9, graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in business administration.
He was a CPA at the accounting firm Arthur Andersen in Seattle before being hired as vice president-controller at Stevens Hospital in Edmonds, now Swedish Medical Center.
Lewis was hired as OMC’s chief financial officer in November 1998 before being named CEO in 2006, heading a tax-supported health care system that has 1,550 employees.
Lewis’ interim successor also comes from OMC’s upper management and may have an inside track on the permanent position.
OMC’s Chief Operating Officer Darryl Wolfe, himself the former CFO, will step in June 2 as temporary CEO until the commissioners choose from a pool of candidates who have been winnowed from 91 to 15, said Jennifer Burkhardt, hospital chief human resources officer-general counsel.
They include Wolfe, the only in-house candidate.
“He is an excellent candidate who is broadly supported,” Burkhardt said last week.
“He will be a very important leader to OMC. It’s just a matter of whether one of the external candidates rises to the top. Darryl will definitely be a finalist.”
The candidates are being reviewed by Burkhardt and Commissioners Thom Hightower, John Nutter and Tom Oblak.
Lewis told commissioners on May 20 that it was time for him to step away from the heavyweight duties that come with being a hospital CEO.
“I am just out of gas for this job,” Lewis said. “It would be a disservice to this organization, and I just can’t do it anymore.
“A leader has to know when. It is bittersweet.”
Lewis said on May 21 that he’s in good health and may start working for WSHA later this summer, especially if there is a special legislative session. Legislative advocacy will be part of his new job.
The hours will be different, he’s happy to say.
“It’s the energy to work 12 hours a day, it’s the energy to do this job,” he explained, a little more than a week away from leaving it.
“It will be different work and a different level of stress for me.”
Most hospital CEOs last four years, so 13 ½ years “is a good, solid run,” he said. “I think its OK to say when you’re done.”
Lewis said WSHA sought him out for the CFO vacancy.
He counts among the greatest accomplishments during his tenure construction of cancer center in Sequim and the OMC medical office building in Port Angeles, as well as being part of “an amazing team.”
The affection is mutual, as evidenced during a board meeting dominated by verbal accolades for Lewis.
Dr. Mark Fischer recounted Wednesday the high ratings OMC has achieved during Lewis’ tenure and said WSHA was lucky to hire him.
“They trust his acumen,” Fischer said.
Board Chairman Jim Leskinovitch said on May 20 a board resolution was being prepared to honor Lewis’ service to replace the one he had planned that was too short.
A day later, Leskinovitch recounted how Lewis was instrumental in getting a veterans clinic established in a former internal medicine building two years before veterans’ clinic would have otherwise opened.
“Eric has done so much for this community,” he said. “His rectitude, and everything about him is honest, and he’s a great human being.”
Nutter, a hospital commissioner, former OMC chief financial officer and current Port of Port Angeles deputy executive director, recalled working with Lewis since Lewis’s first day as hospital CFO in 1998.
“I’m speechless,” Nutter said. “I don’t know what to say. I’m very happy for you.”
Commissioner Dr. John Miles said when he ran for the position, the territory was not new.
“I never worked for a better CEO than Eric in all my career of 42 years,” Miles said.
Lewis has a 24-year-old son, a 20-year-old daughter and a new grandchild.
He said he will continue living in Sequim.
Commissioner Ann Marie Henninger suggested Lewis’ next chapter in life will include spending time with the newest member of his family.
Being a grandpa “is a whole new image,” responded Lewis.
“I will say I am having trouble with that, but I am looking forward to it.”