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Gardner steps down as health system CEO
Hospital chief seeks more family time, new challenge; Burrell chosen as interim leader
Jim Gardner, left, outgoing president and CEO of Northeast Georgia Health Systems and Carol Burrell, interim president and CEO

Jim Gardner stepped down Monday as the president and CEO of the Northeast Georgia Health System, effective immediately.

Carol Burrell, vice president and chief operating officer, has been named the interim CEO.
Gardner, the system's leader since March 2004, has not yet decided the next step in his professional career. He cited both professional and personal reasons for his leaving the post.

"I have had the privilege of being here in Gainesville for the last (six) years," he said. "I have learned so much and have had a fabulous team. This has been an incredible, learning opportunity. ... I'm exploring a number of (career) options at this point. I've learned over the years to keep my options open."

Gardner's resignation and sudden departure happened quickly over the last few days. But he said Monday the move isn't that unusual.

"When changes like this are made, it is better to have a quicker transition than a longer one. The sooner we transition, the sooner the staff have the opportunity to rally behind her," Gardner said. "A quick transition is better for everyone concerned."

Mary Lynn Coyle, chairwoman of the Northeast Georgia Health System Board, said it was Gardner's decision to leave and the board supports him.

"We are really so pleased that (Gardner) will be able to have this time with his family," Coyle said. "And we are looking forward to celebrating his successes (at an event) in December."

Gardner says he would like to be able to spend time with his family before his son is deployed with a U.S. Army unit to Afghanistan early next year.

"My son will be home for around three weeks at Christmastime and for about two weeks in January. If I can be home every day during those five weeks, that's something that I want to do as a parent," Gardner said.

Burrell has stepped in immediately as interim CEO. Burrell was promoted to the chief operating officer in 2004, after putting in more than 10 years with the system's senior management team.

"Nothing here can be done in a vacuum," she said. "We all work as a team, Jim and I in particular. So I have no hesitation what so ever in stepping in as the CEO. ... We have a great team and I look forward to helping this organization continue to move forward."

Northeast Georgia Health System has also expanded its operations into South Hall with the opening of Medical Plaza 1 in Braselton, and a new South Hall hospital campus is planned on the same site.

System administrators are currently reviewing plans for the South Hall hospital. According to Burrell, the project will not be affected by the shift in leadership.

"We don't anticipate any delays," she said. "We've been working very closely together as a team, so things are right on track. It will be business as usual."

Gardner came to Gainesville in 2004 to replace longtime CEO John A. Ferguson, who retired. In Gardner's six years in Gainesville, the heath system has earned a number of accolades over the years. Most recently, it was named as one of the 10 best places to work in Georgia by Georgia Trend Magazine.

Earlier this year, Thomson Reuters, an independent news and business organization, named Northeast Georgia Medical Center as one of the top 100 hospitals nationwide. And for the last six years in a row, HealthGrades has ranked the medical center's Ronnie Green Heart Center as the No. 1 cardiac care hospital in Georgia.

The medical center also has completed a number of important constructions projects, including opening its North Patient Tower and its Women and Children's Pavilion on the system's Gainesville campus.

Gardner said he wanted to pursue a new challenge.

"My professional curiosity drives me to explore the challenge of working with another organization that isn't as prepared for the future as (this health system)," he said. "At 53 years old, this is sort of my last opportunity to do that. It's what I enjoy and it's what brings passion to my work - and subsequently, why I have made the decision to leave (Northeast Georgia) at this time."

Coyle said it will be "business as usual" during this transition.

"The strategic direction of the system doesn't change with leadership," Coyle said. "Our strategies are clear and defined. We will continue down the road that we've already established. We look forward to continued success under (Burrell's) leadership."

Gardner will remain available to the system for awhile in an advisory capacity. Officials anticipate having a new, permanent leader by this summer.


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