Scripps Health CEO Chris Van Gorder speaks at a press conference about the coronavirus pandemic. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

As health care workers and administrators of the $3.2 billion nonprofit Scripps Health system grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, they must do so without the experience of three top officers who left their jobs in recent weeks and months, including Scripps’ chief medical and operating officers.

Chief medical officer Dr. Jim LaBelle left his post Jan. 13 after seven years in the role. LaBelle has worked in emergency medicine for 30 years and helped Scripps navigate the Ebola outbreak. LaBelle previously served as medical director of emergency services and chief of staff at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, according to media coverage of his selection as CMO in 2012.

LaBelle’s departure was preceded by the December departure of Scripps’ corporate executive vice president and general counsel, Richard Sheridan, who’d been with Scripps since 1988, created its legal office and negotiated the system’s expansion from a single hospital into several hospitals and health care facilities. He also led Scripps’ human resources department.

More recently Scripps’ chief operating officer, Shiraz Fagan, resigned Feb. 14 after serving 18 years in management and leadership roles at Scripps, according to three management memos sent out by Scripps CEO Chris Van Gorder obtained by Voice of San Diego.

All three Scripps officials had been paid high six- or seven-figure salaries ranging from $960,000 to nearly $2.4 million, in Sheridan’s case, according to Scripps’ public IRS tax filing for 2017-18.

The exact reason and circumstances surrounding each of the departures is unclear, and a Scripps’ spokeswoman declined to elaborate.

Van Gorder described Sheridan’s departure as a retirement in the management memo, and Sheridan did not respond to VOSD inquiries asking about his departure. Neither did Fagan. LaBelle declined to comment when reached by phone.

Scripps’ spokeswoman Janice Collins declined to shed any specific light on the executive team departures and did not answer questions about the experience of those who replaced them.

According to the memos, LaBelle was initially replaced on an interim basis by Drs. Anil Keswani and Ghazala Sharieff, while Sheridan was replaced by assistant general counsel Brad Ellis. It is unclear who replaced Fagan, or whether the position remains vacant.

Collins said the health system is not suffering from the management losses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“While we can’t comment on personnel actions as it relates to individuals, given the tenure of our leadership team, changes were to be expected at some point in time,” Collins wrote in an email Monday. “And we are doing just fine as Scripps has a deep bench.”

Four Scripps trustees also left the 14-member board at the end of last year, but Collins said in an email that was the result of normal turnover due to term limits. There are currently no vacancies, she said.

In 2014, LaBelle was named by Becker Hospital Review among the “100 Hospital and Health System CMOs to Know.”

“Dr. LaBelle plays a critical role in expanding and maintaining the partnerships that Scripps has built with physicians over the last decade,” Scripps President and CEO Chris Van Gorder, said at the time in a Scripps news release. “His leadership is invaluable as we develop and implement groundbreaking medical management functions during a period of rapid change in the health care sector.”

Among other things, LaBelle led Scripps’ efforts to improve inpatient and ambulatory clinical care and “Jim’s passion for quality improvement, the design of clinical processes and the development of population health management models has driven improvement in these areas and made Scripps a better place to work and a better place to receive care,” Van Gorder’s Jan. 10 memo said. LaBelle returned to the Scripps Encinitas medical staff.

Fagan’s primary focus as COO had been “reducing costs in the organization to help make care more affordable and accessible for our patients and the community,” Van Gorder told management and doctors in the Feb. 5 memo.

Meanwhile, Van Gorder wrote in Sheridan’s departure memo Dec. 11, “Richard and his legal team negotiated the transactions and agreements enabling this growth and created the legal services that guide and support the daily delivery of health care by our physicians, clinicians, and staff.”

The Scripps Health network of hospitals and clinics has tested 1,660 patients for the novel coronavirus since March 13. Just under 6 percent have tested positive for the virus, or 97 people, according to Scripps’ officials this week.

Ashly McGlone

Ashly is a freelance investigative reporter. She formerly worked as a staff reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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