WINCHESTER — Valley Health President and CEO Mark Merrill, who has lead the regional not-for-profit health system since 2009, announced Wednesday that he plans to retire next year, between July and September.
“The place is in good shape,” Merrill, 65, said in a phone interview, adding that he and his wife, Teri, plan to keep Winchester as their primary residence.
Valley Health — the largest employer in the Northern Shenandoah Valley with about 6,000 employees including 500 physicians — operates six hospitals in the region, including Winchester Medical Center, as well as a network of urgent care centers, physician practices, and resources for rehabilitation and fitness. It had revenues of $1,035,467,293 and expenditures of $989,125,698 in 2017, according to IRS filings.
Since informing Valley Health’s 15-member Board of Trustees of his plans to retire, Merrill said he has been working with the board on a transition plan and national search to find his successor. A search firm has been hired, but Merrill declined to name it.
Merrill, who received about $1.7 million in compensation from Valley Health in 2017, according to IRS filings, said he is confident of Valley Health’s position in the community and its financial health, adding that he will remain an ardent defender of the system’s not-for-profit status. In 2017, Valley Health absorbed $143 million in charity care, bad debt, Medicaid payment shortfalls and other care expenses, he said, in addition to sponsoring numerous community events and education programs and paying above average wages.
Merrill, who also serves as chairman of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA), came to Valley Health a decade ago after working for 14 years at Texas Health Resources in Dallas, where he was executive vice president. He said the investment Valley Health makes in the well-being of the community is “materially more than I saw in Texas.”
In Dallas, there are 15 hospital systems, Merrill said, but Valley Health operates the only hospital in each of the six localities it serves (Winchester and the counties of Shenandoah, Page and Warren in Virginia and Hampshire and Morgan counties in West Virginia). “We really are the safety net.”
During his tenure at Valley Health, Merrill said the organization has come together to operate holistically. A decade ago, Valley Health had not yet fully acquired its hospitals in West Virginia, patient records were isolated at various facilities, and Valley Health operated as “a group of inconsistent parts.”
A digital medical records system that’s shared among hospitals, collaborative partnerships with physicians, and an expanded ambulatory care footprint are some of the advances that make Valley Health operate as a cohesive, integrated network today, he said.
Valley Health also has established a partnership with Inova Health System in Northern Virginia, and it collaborates with Shenandoah University and Lord Fairfax Community College as educational partners.
All of Valley Health’s campuses have been renovated or built contemporary physical plants during Merrill’s tenure, with a new Warren Memorial Hospital being built in Warren County, a Valley Health news release said.
As chairman of the VHHA, Merrill’s “leadership and tireless advocacy” were critical to the recent expansion of Medicaid in Virginia, ensuring access to care for more than 300,000 people, the release said.
Merrill said he plans to stay active in policy advocacy.
Valley Health Board Chairman Joseph F. Silek Jr. said in the release that, “Mark’s legacy is how his work has positively affected patients and families, coworkers and colleagues, physicians, friends and strangers. I thank him for his efforts to advance our organization’s new strategic initiatives over the next year and appreciate the intellectual rigor he has brought to his work, his values-based leadership, and his commitment to our community.”
Added Dr. Patrick Ireland, vice chairman of Valley Health’s Board of Trustees: “Mark has been instrumental in guiding Valley Health and positioning the system to provide the highest quality care to the patients we serve for decades to come.”
“It will be difficult to leave Valley Health, the people who have inspired and humbled me over the last decade and a career that has energized and challenged me for 35 years, but I’m excited about supporting the transition process before opening a new chapter of exploration, more family time, postponed endeavors and more,” Merrill said in the release.