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Q&A: Retiring CEO Details MSHA's Winning Strategy

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, July 19, 2013

Dennis Vonderfecht took over an East Tennessee hospital in 1990 and built it into the Mountain States Health Alliance. As he prepares to retire, Vonderfecht details some of his strategic moves and expresses optimism for the organization's future.


Dennis Vonderfecht


Dennis Vonderfecht

Dennis Vonderfecht was a greenhorn CEO who came to lead a sleepy community hospital called Johnson City Medical Center in 1990. He never thought he would stay this long, and never envisioned that JCMC would grow to become a dominant regional health system, with 13 hospitals (working on 14) in four states, and with 400 owned physician practices and a health plan.  

Now, as leader of Mountain States Health Alliance, Vonderfecht will leave at the end of the year to spend more time traveling, playing with his two young grandchildren, and—believe it or not—catching up on his hobby of breeding and raising miniature donkeys (my daughter, who loves donkeys for some reason, would absolutely freak to see them).  

Vonderfecht believes his as yet-unnamed successor—there are three finalists, all from outside the organization—will continue to build the system. Meanwhile, he won't completely leave healthcare. He envisions spending at least some time on healthcare boards, but doesn't have any commitments beyond December.  

Certainly many organizations could benefit from his expertise. But before he put on the overalls and knee-high muck boots, Vonderfecht spent an hour with me talking about his vision for the future of Mountain States, which is far from completely realized.

HLM: How is the search going for your successor?

Vonderfecht: It's going along well. We've had a succession planning process in place for three years. The search committee has worked with Witt/Keiffer narrowing the candidate list down. We've got it down to three and they're all external.

HLM: Are you on the committee?  

Vonderfecht: No, I'm not on the search committee. But I'm confident the board is 100% supportive of the direction we're moving and they want whoever comes here to keep the organization headed in the same direction. I'm reviewing the strategic plan on what has been accomplished and what's yet to be accomplished as a roadmap for the new CEO.

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