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New Interim CEO moving forward at KershawHealth

Gunn on healthcare, family and muscle cars

Posted: December 10, 2013 7:32 p.m.
Updated: December 11, 2013 5:00 a.m.

The first thing Terry Gunn mentions is how the older of his two sons loves photography.

“He buys all these cameras off eBay and refurbishes them,” Gunn said.

When asked if his son loves film cameras, or digital, he points out that his older son is a 21-year-old student wrapping up an associate’s degree in computer engineering at Trident Technical College and doesn’t know anything about pre-digital cameras.

“I remember visiting my parents’ house -- he must have been 7 or 8 years old and had gotten into one of my dad’s closets and said, ‘Dad, come see this!” Gunn said. “It was my dad’s old record collection and my son said, ‘Those have got to be the biggest CDs I’ve ever seen.”

Gunn’s younger son will be 18 soon and is in the middle of his senior year of high school. That fact plays into his answer to the first question during his first interview since starting work as KershawHealth’s interim chief executive officer (CEO): would he consider taking on the job permanently?

“Right now, I think that’s a question I would love to answer at some point down the road. Right now, the board and I have really talked about this being an interim (position) and it’s the right thing,” Gunn said.

He said that with KershawHealth’s “great tradition” in the community, the last thing that’s needed is launching a new era. Instead, he said he feels a “breather … a fresh assessment” is needed in order to solidify a platform from which to launch from.

“And then, it may be that I’m the right person down the road, it may be that there’s someone else that would be more appropriate to lead the organization. So, the short answer for me is, no, I don’t want to disrupt (my son’s) senior year. My frustration and dissatisfaction driving back and forth on the weekends to Charleston would be far outweighed by his dissatisfaction and disruption in the middle of his senior year right now. It’s not practical for me,” said Gunn, who lives in Summerville.

His younger son is into “soccer, soccer, and soccer,” Gunn said, explaining his son’s a long-time starter as a goalie for his team at 6 foot 3 inches tall and pushing 200 pounds.

Looking in the other direction on the family tree, Gunn’s father was a healthcare organization CEO, too. However, father did not inspire son to follow in his footsteps -- at least not at first.

“My original plan in college with my undergraduate in marketing, my interest was to work for Proctor & Gamble and do the sales management training program and go that route,” Gunn said. “As things worked out my senior year, I couldn’t get on with Proctor & Gamble and really didn’t have an opportunity that I was highly interested in, so I did what all college students do when they don’t have the job they’re looking for: they go back to school for more.”

While he received his marketing degree at the University of Oklahoma, Gunn switched to Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. -- the same graduate school his father had attended years before -- to pursue his master’s degree.

“This was in the mid-80s and at that time, one of my senior marketing professors was also on the board of the Red Cross. She said, ‘Terry, have you ever considered healthcare as an option?’ This was right after one of the big shifts in healthcare where there was a lot of marketing emphasis and communication with the community and building those ties. The second person that I talked with -- her being the first -- I called my dad and said, ‘My professor got me thinking about the healthcare option, what are your thoughts?’ It really began a pretty neat progression where I, ultimately, was able to go to the same graduate school he went to … and he’s just been a very special advisor. I get to have a dad and an advisor,” Gunn said.

His father retired just last year after more than 20 years as CEO of Craig General Hospital in Vinta, Okla., a small community in the northeast part of the state. Vinta is about 45 minutes from Joplin, Mo., the site of one 2011’s most devastating tornadoes. Gunn’s parents currently live in Tulsa, Okla.

Gunn spent his first years in the healthcare industry in Memphis with the Baptist Memorial Health Care System. He stayed from 1988 to 1993, starting as an administrative resident and ending as an assistant administrator.

“I spent the first two years or so -- Baptist’s rehab center used to be the old VA hospital -- they had an old commanding officer’s house that my wife and I moved into. It was built in the 1890s. I don’t think it had been repaired a lot since then,” Gunn said.

He said he enjoyed living in Memphis, calling it a “fun city” and loved Corky’s, a Memphis-area ribs and barbecue franchise. The couple’s last years in the area were on the southeast side of the Memphis metro “not too far” from Germantown, Tenn., and Olive Branch, Miss., just over the state line.

Gunn’s healthcare career included stints as an assistant administrator at Donelson Hospital/Summit Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.; CEO of Stones River Hospital in Woodbury, Tenn.; CEO of River Park Hospital in McMinnville, Tenn; and CEO of Hospital Corporation of America’s (HCA) Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Ga., and Trident Health System in Charleston. While at Trident, Gunn became HCA’s president of its Carolina Market. He left the company in 2008 to become an executive advisor with Charter Resource Group of Nashville, Tenn.; and executive chairman and senior operating partner of Applied Healthcare Solutions in Tulsa, Okla.

So, what does a busy healthcare executive do in his spare time? Is there any spare time?

“My favorite thing, right now -- of course, we’ve spent a lot of time with the boys as they’ve grown up, like most parents do, (attending) soccer games, baseball games, and our older son is really into music, so we’ve seen a lot of the things he’s done. So that occupies an awful lot of the spare time,” he said.

Gunn also plays golf and enjoys going to the beach or kayaking with his wife.

And then there are the muscle cars.

“The louder the better,” he said.

Gunn recently sold his last such car to a dentist in the Upstate for their wife’s 40th birthday: a 1965 Mustang convertible, red with white top, with red and white interior.

“One of my favorite cars,” Gunn said, showing off a picture of it on his smartphone. “It was about an eight-year project. It was a mess. I bought it in Tennessee and we moved to Augusta and I toyed with it just making it drivable. Then, when we moved to Charleston, I really decided to finish it right. I worked with a shop in Georgetown and took it all the way down -- frame-off restoration. It won a first place prize at the grand nationals in 2007. And then I modified it.”

Gunn put on a racing suspension, rebuilt the engine and bored it out a little bit to make it a little bigger, and put on dual exhaust, and added 17-inch oversized wheels.

“It was a lot more fun to drive after that.”

He counts the best thing he added to the Mustang as air conditioning.

“Sitting at those stop signs in the summer, you want air conditioning, even with the top down,” Gunn said.

Getting back to more serious business, Gunn said the key to success is to look for where any organization’s strengths are and what’s going well, rather than focusing on negatives.

“Look at the places where all the players are able to work together and it’s almost as if you’re building a campfire: you protect those areas, continue to feed a little more fuel to the fire and you begin to build some momentum and, before you know it, it begins to spread throughout the organization and throughout the community,” he said.

Gunn’s philosophy is that people enjoy things that are done in an excellent way.

“We all have to choose where to put our time,” Gunn said. “I could put my time on things that are broken and not working well, and sometimes you have to, but that’s just part of the package. But, really, I like to invest my time where it’s going to have the biggest opportunity to really make something special happen. I believe that tends to be in those places where excellence already resides, where excellence can easily be pulled together and then let that infect everything else around it. That’s the secret sauce.”

In a healthcare organization setting, Gunn said that plays out not only in terms of services offered, but through employee teams and physician partners. A person, he said, could only work on fixing their weaknesses, but would only end up being mediocre. Emphasize those things one is good at, and excellence starts to take over, he said.

“When you look at people and look at organizations, when you look at sports teams … those that really do well have somehow harnessed what they’re really good at and then joined up with others who are really good at a few things and that’s just so much more powerful,” Gunn said.

Applying that philosophy to KershawHealth, Gunn said that in his first three days as interim CEO he was already encouraged by the stories he heard.

“This person that was taken care of in a certain way, or the impact that was made on this particular family,” he said. “I say that to make the point that there’s an awful lot of pride in terms of the care from the employee team and the physicians. As people reflect back on what has gotten us to this point, it’s been excellent care, it’s been local people taking care of providing a life-changing service for the people that live in this community -- their friends and relatives. That’s something you don’t always see in a large city and there’s a lot of pride in that.”

Gunn said it would, therefore, be premature for him to say what of KershawHealth’s many services are the “top agenda” at this point. Instead, he is focusing on the encouragement he’s seeing in terms of internal pride and commitment to making those services as a whole excellent.

“When you’ve got that, you’ve got a pretty powerful opportunity; it’s just a matter of directing it to the right location. I left Friday -- you never know when you walk in, and I’ve walked into a lot of hospitals as the new guy -- and you’re never really sure how you’re going to walk out after that first week, but my drive home Friday evening was sweet and I was still jotting down voice memo notes to myself all the way down the interstate of just some wonderful things, of enthusiasm on the people’s side,” Gunn said.

He acknowledges, however, that there are challenges. KershawHealth has lost millions of dollars in recent years as the economy has shifted patients’ priorities from inpatient to outpatient services, coupled with severe cuts in both governmental and commercial insurance reimbursements. More and confusing changes are playing out due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), he said.

All of those are disruptive, Gunn said, but that there are two things successful providers are doing well.

First, he said they have an absolute commitment to quality of care -- under the ACA, quality of care is going to be “protected, it’s going to be incentivized,” Gunn said, and “absolutely expected.” He said KershawHealth’s commitment to excellence will continue with him for quality of outcomes, services and relationships.

Second, Gunn said they will have a focus on the application of technology. By that, Gunn said he means not only information technology and to share information, but clinical technology and how it’s applied to patient care. “We have to stay on the cutting edge of that,” he said, adding that he’s seen a commitment to doing so at all levels of KershawHealth.

Gunn said his mission, therefore, is three-fold:

• Understand where KershawHealth is today and advise the board in terms of strategically developing the healthcare system in light of the new healthcare environment.

• Take the things he’s seen in the industry and “bring some ideas and some innovations that a lot of folks have not had the opportunity to see.”

• Help strengthen and build a lot of KershawHealth’s relationships with the community, businesses, physicians and employees.

Gunn used his time at Doctors Hospital and the now high-profile Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, as an example. It was already a success when he arrived in 2001, but that he felt it could be even more successful. He said he helped Doctors Hospital and HCA accomplish that by “broadening its scope” in terms of geography. Investments were made in education and training of clinical staff, new physicians, expanding helicopter transport and outreach programs. During a three-year period, he said, it transformed from a regional burn center into one that treats nearly all burns in South Carolina, a vast majority in Georgia and some of the most severe cases from across the country and even from different parts of the world.

Gunn said he took the Burn Center’s success with him to Trident, facilitating a partnership between the two healthcare organizations.

“It’s exciting when you can see how far things can go,” he said, although he admitted not everything is practical to do on that scale. “The point being that nobody thought we’d become this world-class burn center overnight, but as we just started taking steps to expand a little bit here, move into a new community that’s adjacent to us there, focus on excellent outcomes … the results were staggering. It’s just amazing when everyone can get on the same page and … set as secondary, their personal agendas.”

He said he expects similar things to happen here in Camden.

“There are very few communities that can say they’ve got a 100-year tradition of healthcare in their community with a hospital like this,” Gunn said. “We’re here for a purpose and we’ve been preserved here for a purpose over time, and I’m excited to see where that legacy that’s been built can carry our community.

“So, it’s exciting -- I’m not sure where the first launch is going to happen, but I know it will. It’ll be fun to see where it happens. You’ve really got the full spectrum of healthcare delivered locally, so the menu to pick from is pretty varied. I suspect there’ll be more than one pretty significant opportunities that is going to be cropping up over the next few months.”

Gunn will get his first chance to discuss those opportunities with the KershawHealth Board of Trustees when it meets for the only time this month on Dec. 17.

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