My one-minute impression of Gary Marchand was a favorable one.

It was only a minute because that’s about how long I was in the same room a few weeks back with the new interim CEO at Greenwood Leflore Hospital. After that, I was politely asked by the hospital board to leave so that it could speak with Marchand behind closed doors.

I didn’t know at the time who he was or why he was there, but he shook my hand and, more importantly, volunteered his name. That allowed me to go look him up on Google and start to put the pieces together for a story in this newspaper.

It was a small thing. Seeing my camera bag, he probably had figured out I was at the hospital board meeting as a reporter, even if he hadn’t been alerted to it in advance. He could have tried to have been coy and left me in the dark. That he didn’t, I’m hoping, is the beginning of a good relationship.

Marchand, 67, has been brought on board to run things at the 208-bed hospital while the board continues its nationwide search for a permanent CEO.

Unlike with the last interim CEO, Subho Basu, this does not appear to be a trial run for Marchand. His intention of keeping his home in Long Beach and commuting to Greenwood during the week is a pretty good tip-off that he’s not angling to make this a long-term arrangement.

At most, I would guess it will be a year before he goes back into retirement, depending on how quickly the search goes for the permanent hire and how much time it takes to get the next CEO acclimated.

How much difference can Marchand make in a relatively short time? We’ll see.

He has lots of impressive experience, including 27 years at a medical institution, Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, that does five times the revenue of Greenwood’s hospital and has three times as many employees.

He’s probably great with numbers, as was Basu, since Marchand’s initial training was as a certified public accountant. He’s also probably better than Basu at developing a strategic plan, working with the medical staff and communicating with the hospital board.

Basu had never run a hospital before assuming the job in Greenwood. Marchand had done that for 15 years, and before that spent a dozen years as Memorial Hospital’s chief financial officer. He’s bound to have picked up a few tricks in that time, including how to navigate that sometimes delicate symbiotic relationship between a hospital and its physicians.

A hospital and its doctors need each other, but sometimes that relationship gets frayed when the number crunchers don’t think the physicians on staff are seeing enough patients or providing enough referrals to the hospital, and the physicians bristle at what they perceive is an assembly-line mentality by administrators. Plus there are jealousies and suspicions that develop when physicians believe that some of their colleagues are getting a better financial deal in their contracts than others.

Marchand should have plenty of experience walking that tightrope.

Let’s hope he can also help the Greenwood hospital reduce its red ink.

The hospital made some progress, mostly by cutting costs, during Basu’s 10-month tenure, but it has to better figure out how to increase revenue. Through the first 11 months of this fiscal year, the hospital cut expenses by more than $4 million but at the same time saw its revenues dip by $3 million. The September numbers won’t be released until later this month, but it’s almost certain that the hospital will wind up with a multimillion-dollar deficit for the fourth straight year.

It will be interesting to see whether what Marchand learned while working in a market where the population has been steadily growing can be applied to one where the population has been steadily declining. He acknowledged, in the prepared statement announcing his hire this past week, that the Delta is a different animal.

“I come to Greenwood Leflore Hospital with my eyes wide open to the challenges, and I know it’s an uphill battle to keep a medical center in the Mississippi Delta financially healthy,” he said.

Marchand’s anticipated short-term hire is also ideal given that the future direction of the hospital — including its ownership — is presently an open question.

The city of Greenwood and Leflore County, the hospital’s owners, are expecting by the end of the year a recommendation from outside consultants as to whether the hospital should pursue a buyer, affiliate with a larger medical institution or continue operating as an independent entity. Until the parties involved come to a definitive answer, it hamstrings the search for a permanent CEO.

There probably aren’t many great candidates who would take the job without knowing if they will still be employed six months from now.

Contact Tim Kalich at 581-7243 or tkalich@gwcommonwealth.com.

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