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This article was written by Laura Layden for the Naples Daily News. You can read the original article by clicking here.

NCH Healthcare System has chosen its next CEO, impressed by what search committee members said is his collaborative and community spirit.

Employees learned Friday that Paul Hiltz, SHHS Class of 1977, will assume the top job as president and chief executive. They met him via video, bringing enthusiastic applause from the standing-room only crowd at the Telford Auditorium on the NCH Downtown campus — and an end to months of uncertainty about who would become the hospital system’s next leader.

Hiltz, an experienced healthcare executive from Ohio, expects to be in town next week to meet employees face-to-face. He’ll officially start the job Sept. 3.

In a phone interview after the announcement, he said he can’t wait to get started.

“It just feels like home,” Hiltz said. “It has a great feel to it.”

Hiltz began his long career in hospital administration in 1983 as the marketing director for Good Samaritan Medical Center in Zanesville, Ohio.

Most recently he’s served as president and CEO of Mercy Medical Center in Canton, Ohio. He’s still working on his transition from there.

No stranger to Naples
Hiltz, 60, has vacationed in the Naples area and has friends here, so it’s familiar territory. Through the months-long hiring process, he said he met other area residents who made him feel very welcome here.

He acknowledged many Ohioans have gravitated here, which should also make the adjustment to a new home easier for him and his wife, Kristen.

There’s another plus to moving to Naples, he said. It’s a place Hiltz knows his four grown children will love to visit.

Hiltz already knows what his first day — and first weeks — will look like on the job. Don’t expect him to sit in his office much. He’ll embark on a “listening tour,” so he can learn more about what the community wants, needs and expects from NCH.

“I just sense so much support by community leaders,” he said. “It’s just great.”

He plans to meet with health care, hospital and community leaders, including elected officials, and others to help him formulate a game plan for NCH’s next chapter.

While the job will be demanding and there’s much work to do, he said he foresees a great future ahead.

“The good news is there is a great team,” he said. “Health care is a team sport. I’m one member of the team, but there will be a ton more.”

Although his free time might be limited he said he also looks forward to playing a little pickleball with his wife.

“I appreciate the fact that Naples has been named the ‘Pickleball Capital of the World,'” he said.

National search
NCH hired executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates to conduct a national search for the top post in March. Hiltz was chosen from a field of 11 candidates selected to interview for the job.

Phil Dutcher, NCH’s chief operations officer, who has been serving as interim CEO, interviewed for the job too. On Friday, he told employees gathered to hear the CEO announcement that he supported the board’s decision.

Dutcher said he’d stay on as chief operations officer and looked forward to working with Hiltz to make NCH’s health care system even better for the community, bringing applause from other employees, who expressed relief that he wasn’t going anywhere.

In a statement, Mariann MacDonald, NCH’s board chairwoman, said: “Our board is intent on keeping NCH a community hospital. That’s why the search committee was diligent about reviewing resumes and vetting qualified candidates. It was important that we found not only an ideal candidate, but also an experienced CEO that values our mission at NCH.”

The NCH board chose Hiltz unanimously.

“We are confident that he will be successful in his new role because he has demonstrated decades of exceptional leadership,” MacDonald said. “His experience is impressive and his ability to listen and collaborate will be key to the continued success of our community.”

Down to two finalists
Kevin Beebe, one of 10 members who served on NCH’s executive search committee, said in a phone interview the choice came down to two finalists, culled from a pool of more than 30 candidates who applied for the job. Hiltz, he said, stood out during a three-step process not only because of his “amazing experience” in health care, but because of his commitment to collaboration and community.

During interviews, Hiltz demonstrated he’s an innovative and visionary leader, with creative ideas, Beebe said, but NCH’s board chose him more for his track record of building a community through collaboration with physicians, administrators, community leaders and other stakeholders.

He, more than anyone, showed a spirit of openness and cooperation, which will be important in developing the next steps for NCH aimed at improving health care in the community, Beebe said.

As for the amount of interest generated by the CEO search, Beebe said he wasn’t surprised to see so many qualified candidates apply.

“It was really reinforcement that we have a health care system in this community that is well regarded outside of Naples,” Beebe said.

Paul Jones, a family doctor and president of NCH’s medical staff, who also served on the executive search committee, described the hiring process as thorough and exhaustive. Hiltz, he said, has many good attributes including a track record of improving the quality of medical care wherever he goes.

Hiltz and his wife also have a track record of giving back to whatever community they live in.

Jones said Hiltz has the right leadership qualities to build consensus, which he said is needed to get things done.

The right fit
Naples Mayor Bill Barnett hasn’t meet Hiltz yet, but he said he looks forward to it. “He should fit right in,” Barnett said.

Barnett was also happy to hear about Hitlz’s plans for a listening tour.

“I think that’s great,” he said. “I think that’s a great way to start.”

Meredith Burth, a charge nurse who’s worked at NCH for 15 years, said she and other nurses were happy to finally learn who would be their next CEO. She was impressed by what she heard Hiltz say in the video, which she said gave her confidence that NCH will continue to be patient-centered and patient-focused.

“We’re excited to move forward,” she said.

In the video, Hiltz said every leadership position in health care has to do with spreadsheets and numbers, but this one is about a lot more — “connection with the community, partnerships with doctors and excellence in patient care.”

“That is why I want to be in Naples,” he said.

He added that he brings a high degree of transparency and openness to his leadership, which increases collaboration and “brings out the best in everybody.”

“I want people to know that I’m as excited to be in health care today as I was when I got into it 25 years ago,” he said.

Karin Gutierrez, NCH’s interim director for respiratory therapy, said she looks forward to learning from Hiltz and to seeing continued improvement at the hospital system.

“We are here for the community,” she said. “We want to exceed at that.”

Turmoil ends
Like many employees, Gutierrez said she felt relieved that Dutcher wasn’t going anywhere because he’s brought so many positive changes since replacing former CEO Dr. Allen Weiss, who resigned in January after months of turmoil with the medical staff and community stemming from a pilot project on selected hospital units that limited access from outside doctors.

The project put NCH-employed hospitalists in charge of admissions and patient care.

Independent primary care and concierge physicians claimed the project disrupted their relationships with their patients. They anticipated the new admissions policy would be rolled out to different floors — and eventually cut off their admission privileges and ability to care for their patients in the hospital. The policy also struck a nerve with many residents.

Area residents argued they should be allowed to choose who takes care of them and how they’re cared for in the hospital. Hundreds of political season-style yard signs cropped up against NCH Healthcare.

Last fall the Collier County Medical Society began a campaign to educate the community about the implications of the project, and a petition campaign garnered more than 15,000 signatures, letters to the editor and guest editorials against it.

Physicians on the outside said Weiss and his Chief of Staff Kevin Cooper pushed their concerns aside. Cooper resigned with Weiss.

The duo’s resignations brought immediate changes, including dropping the restrictive admissions policy that stirred so much controversy.