Southeast Missouri Hospital president to retire next year

Thursday, July 17, 2008

James Wente will retire as president and chief executive officer of Southeast Missouri Hospital in Cape Girardeau, effective July 31, 2009, the hospital announced Wednesday morning.

A search firm with expertise in health-care executive recruitment is expected to begin the nationwide search this fall, hospital board chairman James Rust said. He said that will allow ample time for selecting the best candidate to carry forward the hospital's mission.

During the transition, Wente will serve as CEO emeritus from Aug. 1, 2009, to July 31, 2010. Wente said the decision was difficult but came at the right time in his life both professionally and personally.

"My family and I have been blessed to live in such a terrific community and work in such a wonderful place," Wente said. "When I was handling the hospital accounts as an accountant before I came to work here, I told my wife that this would be a great place to work one day. As I look back 34 years after I first started, I got a lot more out of this job than I have contributed."

Wente joined the hospital's senior leadership team in 1975 as assistant administrator and chief financial officer. He was promoted to associate administrator in 1988 and became the 10th CEO of Southeast Missouri Hospital on Jan. 1, 1991.

"Under his leadership, Southeast became the first heart and cancer center hospital in downstate Missouri. His progressive style of leadership has positioned Southeast as the regions' leader in heart and cancer care," Rust said in a formal statement Wednesday.

During Wente's tenure as president and CEO, Southeast Missouri Hospital established a nursing college, nearly doubled its staff from 1,114 people to 2,169 and increased its total assets by $204 million.

The hospital also has completed 10 major expansions since 1991, with the most recent being the West Campus Medical office building. About 520,000 square feet has been added to the campus in the past 17 years.

The new additions include a chest pain center, a sleep lab, regional brain and spine center, MRI unit and obstetrics and gynecology center.

In 2004, the hospital earned the Magnet Nursing Services Recognition Award. Given by the American Nurses Association, the award recognizes health-care organizations that provide nursing excellence.

Those who know Wente best said his contributions to the hospital are priceless.

O. David Niswonger, former administrator at Southeast Missouri Hospital, said Wente's financial background was a vital part of the hospital's management team.

"A hospital administrator can't be an expert in all fields, and you have to rely on qualified, well-trained people to pick up the specialties required to operate the hospital, which is what Jim did," Niswonger said. "He had the financial background, which was my weakest link as far as operating the hospital was concerned. Jim was a great assistance in that regard."

Past board chairman Mike Kohlfeld said Wente thrived during challenging times in the health-care industry.

"When you look at all the things that have happened at the hospital under his leadership, it's quite astounding," Kohlfeld said. "He's one of those people who always puts the community first.

"His litmus test has been if the decisions are good for the community. If they are good for the hospital but not for the community, then it won't happen. He's a very moral, ethical person and has done things the right way for all the right reasons."

Rust noted that Wente was "a person of high integrity and strong morals. You can count on Jim to do the right thing. He has been an excellent leader who will be hard to replace."

Wente, a longtime member of the Missouri Hospital Association, demonstrated "thoughtful leadership," according to MHA president Marc Smith.

Southeast's current and former medical staff presidents, Dr. Gregg Hallman and Dr. Scot G. Pringle, said Wente was accessible and a strong advocate for physicians and patients alike.

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