CMH taps new chief

Cahalan to succeed Jane Ehrlich when she retires as hospital CEO
HUDSON–Speaking to an audience of several hundred hospital employees Tuesday, August 28, Columbia Memorial Hospital President and CEO Jane Ehrlich announced that she will step down at the end of the year and be replaced by the hospital’s chief operating officer, Jay P. Cahalan.
Ms. Ehrlilch has lead the hospital, the county’s largest private employer, for 18 years. During her tenure the hospital has expanded its 258-bed Hudson campus and it has built a network of services, adding a nursing home in Catskill and 35 satellite “centers” offering a range of services in Columbia, Greene and northern Dutchess counties. She said Tuesday that when she signed her last contract six years ago she told the hospital board she would be ready to leave at the end of that period. Planning for her departure started in earnest last year. She plans to become a consultant working on patient safety issues.
At the event both Ms. Ehrlich and hospital board President James Warren made clear that the non-profit hospital intends to remain an independent institution. “There is no thought of Columbia Memorial merging with any other organization,” Ms. Erhlich said emphatically, a statement that drew applause from the employees.
She called this the “ideal time for a transition” in the leadership of the hospital, adding that Columbia Memorial was in a “more stable position” than it had been in the past. But with the growth in services and staff, “We’re really a self-contained healthcare system,” said Ms. Ehrlich. “We can afford to stand alone.”
That theme was picked up by Mr. Warren, who said Ms. Ehrlich and Mr. Cahalan had led a strategic planning process that would enable the hospital to “comply with the requirements of 21st century healthcare.”  He added that the federal Affordable Health Care Act, the health insurance law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year, is “here to stay” and that the hospital was going to remain independent despite the mergers of hospitals in Kingston and Albany.
Mr. Cahalan, 53, arrived at Columbia Memorial Hospital at the same time as Ms. Ehrlich. The two had worked together at the same hospital in Windham, CT, where he was vice president of operations and Ms. Ehrlich was the chief executive.
In a brief interview after the announcement, as employees took advantage of the sandwiches and snacks set up under the tents set up in the parking lot for the announcement, Mr. Cahalan said that one of the keys to the future of the hospital lies in its decision to employ so many local physicians and other providers. He called them the “drivers of care” and said that the hospital’s strategic plan included “integrating physicians” into the decision making process, which he said was different from the model used by many other hospitals.
Vincent Dingman, the hospital’s chief financial officer, estimated that Columbia Memorial employs 90% of all the physicians in Columbia and Green counties.
Mr. Cahalan also mentioned continuing the efforts to improve the sharing of medical records and images, as well as completing the renovations of the hospital’s 6th floor and its psychiatric facility.
Mr. Warren declined to go into details about the process the board used in selecting Mr. Cahalan, but he said it was rigorous and involved outside consultants. He described Mr. Cahalan as “head and shoulders above all the other possibilities,” adding, “We did not just rubber-stamp Jay Cahalan.”
Hospital officials said the announcement and the festive setting with balloons and refreshments would be repeated for the two other shifts at the hospital and for the staff at the nursing home in Catskill. Mr. Warren told the audience in Hudson, “Without Jane Ehrlich, we would not be here,” a statement that also drew applause.
As the crowd of well-wishers drifted away Tuesday early afternoon, Ms. Ehrlich credited the progress the hospital has made to the teamwork of its employees. She said it has been a “joy to work with them.” Though she’s ending her direct relationship with the hospital, she plans to remain in the county. “I’m not going anywhere,” she said.

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