By PATRICK MCARDLE
The next president and CEO of Rutland Regional Medical Center was announced last week, a few weeks before the retirement of Tom Huebner, who served in that role for almost 30 years.
Claudio Fort has been in executive healthcare leadership in both the not-for-profit and for-profit sectors for nearly 30 years, according to an RRMC statement.
“I’m very excited and very honored to have been offered this position,” Fort said shortly after the announcement. “I think Tom Huebner, in my estimation, is one of the leading health care executives in, not just Vermont, but in the whole Northeast and I’m really honored to be following in his footsteps.”
In August, Huebner announced he would retire this month, after putting in 28 years with the hospital. He will be president and CEO for 21 years when he leaves.
Fort said following Huebner, who had led RRMC while also having a place on the Vermont and national hospital associations, means filling “some very big shoes.”
“I’ll try to do Tom and the board justice and try to live up to some of the standards that he’s established for the organization,” Fort said. “I’m kind of humbled in doing that, but I think I’m up to the challenge and I’m certainly ready to begin as I get to know people and establish relationships in the Rutland community.”
Fort is starting his new position this spring. Barbara Robinson, vice president of clinical operations at RRMC, will serve as interim president and CEO in the period between Huebner’s departure and Fort’s start date.
In a statement, Huebner said he has known Fort for the nine years Fort has been in Vermont. Fort “will be a great cultural fit for our organization,” Huebner said.
“He is a warm, open, knowledgeable health care leader and I am confident that both the Rutland Regional Medical Center family and the greater Rutland community will enjoy working with him and getting to know him,” Huebner said.
Fort comes to Rutland from North Country Health System in Newport, where he has served as CEO since 2008. Prior to joining NCHS, Fort was chief executive officer at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Highland, Illinois.
Joining RRMC is a “great career opportunity,” Fort said.
“It’s a larger organization (than Newport). Rutland County and Orleans and Essex counties up here in our service area, I think, have some similar challenges,” he said. “We’ve got some health disparities in our area that I think are very similar and some socio-economic challenges to deal with. I’ve been involved with that (at Newport) and I really enjoy that work.”
John Casella, chairman of the Rutland hospital’s board of directors, explained why Fort was chosen to lead RRMC.
“I think it’s his qualities, his skills, his experience,” Casella said. “His leadership style, we think is a great cultural fit to lead our (medical center) into the future. We expect the transition to be seamless, in part because of the excellent team that Tom has built and led over the years and in part because of the strong leadership qualities that Claudio brings to the hospital.”
Health care’s future is uncertain as both state and national leaders are divided on the best ways to pay for and deliver services, but Casella said that did not make the leadership search more of a challenge for the board.
Fort acknowledged that health care was going through a difficult transition, but said he was pleased to be in Vermont at this time because the state has been a “leader in the country in trying to advance health care reform.”
He also said he and his wife, Brenda, who have two college-age children, are happy to be staying in Vermont. Fort was born and raised in Nashua, New Hampshire. and Brenda is from Massachusetts.
While nothing has been scheduled yet, Fort said he would like to have some kind of “meet-and-greet” event, possibly at the hospital, that will allow him to meet people in the area.
“I think job one, as I get down there, is really going to be going around and really starting to get to met the folks in the community and at the hospital,” he said.