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Healdsburg District Hospital CEO Joe Harrington plans to retire

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Joe Harrington, CEO of Healdsburg District Hospital, announced this week he will retire after almost 2½ years at the helm of the north Sonoma County hospital.

Harrington, who recently turned 70, has been the leader of the hospital since coming aboard October 2017, a week before the North Bay wildfires. He plans to stay on the job until the hospital board hires a new top executive, though he hopes that won’t take too long.

“I don’t have a train to catch,” he said in an interview. “But I don’t want to be here come December. I anticipate it will be a couple of months.”

It will be the second time Harrington has retired. A year before he joined the Healdsburg hospital, Harrington had retired as CEO from Lodi Memorial Hospital in California, where he worked for 23 years.

In Lodi, he helped negotiate a partnership between the hospital and Adventist Health, a large health care provider that agreed to invest up to $100 million to make significant improvements to the hospital.

That accomplishment was one of the reasons Harrington was hired to run the Healdsburg hospital. Since then, Harrington and the local hospital board have been in talks with large local health care providers here, including St. Joseph Health, trying to forge a similar partnership.

Harrington said talks were stalled by the Kincade fire last October, which forced the evacuation and closure of the Healdsburg hospital for nearly a month. But he said the biggest delay was the uncertainty over a proposed merger between Adventist Heath and St. Joseph Health.

Last October, the California Attorney General’s Office rejected that proposed deal, which would have created a joint operating company to manage nine hospitals in Northern California, including Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and Petaluma Valley Hospital and health centers in Mendocino and Lake counties.

Negotiations between the Healdsburg hospital and St. Joseph Health were pending the outcome of that merger proposal, Harrington said. Now that the Adventist and St. Joseph Health proposal has been resolved, Healdsburg hospital officials hope to resume talks with St. Joseph Health.

“Our board feels pretty strongly that our long-term sustainability is tied to a partnership with a large provider,” said Jim Nantell, a Healdsburg hospital board member and treasurer.

Harrington’s previous experience in Lodi has been crucial in laying the foundation for ongoing negotiations toward such a partnership, Nantell said. Also, he said Harrington’s ability to foster “interpersonal relationships” has allowed him to build credibility with Healdsburg hospital staff and local physicians.

“Joe has been great on both sides,” Nantell said. “He has in-depth experience and is very good with people.”

Harrington stressed the viability of the small hospital in Healdsburg will largely depend on whether it can find a partner. The hospital faces costly work under the state’s mandate by 2030 to be able to withstand the risk of collapse after a strong earthquake plus the need to integrate its information technology systems.

“That’s what’s driving our looking for a partner,” he said. “We’re actually doing really well financially.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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