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Rice Hospital picks 2 search firm finalists as it seeks new top executive

WILLMAR -- Two search firms -- Quick, Leonard and Kieffer, and Witt/Kieffer -- have been picked as finalists to become the consultants for Rice Memorial Hospital's search for a new chief executive.

The two companies were on a slate of six semifinalists reviewed Wednesday by the city-owned hospital's board of directors.

The board plans to conduct interviews with each firm next month before making its choice.

It'll be the task of the search firm to help Rice Hospital find a new chief executive to replace Lawrence Massa. Massa, who had led the hospital since 1994, is leaving today for a new position as executive director of the Minnesota Hospital Association.

All six of the search firm semifinalists were well qualified, said Dale Hustedt, Rice Hospital's interim chief executive.

"They're all very reputable, good firms to work with. It's just that we have to pick one," he said.

The board spent at least half an hour Wednesday weighing the pros and cons of each firm.

Both of the firms that were selected as finalists specialize in health care executive recruitment. Both have a home office in Chicago and have placed hospital executives throughout the Midwest.

Costs haven't been nailed down yet, but Rice Hospital can expect to pay anywhere from $95,000 to $108,000 for the services of a search firm.

Most of the firms who submitted proposals charge a fee that's 31 to 33 percent of the salary, signing bonus and incentives the new chief executive will be paid once he or she is hired. Massa earned about $270,000 a year; hospital officials estimate a new CEO will probably command a salary, signing bonus and performance incentives of $300,000.

The cheapest of the six semifinalists, Wipfli CPA and Consultants, asked for a fee of $50,000 plus expenses. The company is an accounting firm rather than a search firm, however, and the board ruled it out, saying it preferred someone with more experience in health care executive searches.

Jim Dokken, the Willmar City Council liaison to the hospital board, said he's hearing concern from the public about the cost.

"There's a lot of naysayers in the community about spending that money," he said.

Board members acknowledged that it's an expense, but said it'll be critical to bring in the right person.

The search consultant will be able to help the board identify the skills that the best candidates should have, said Richard Engan.

"There is a process that would have to include the board and also the medical staff," he said. "What do we need to get us where we need to go?"

"I think that is really the value of having a firm," Hustedt agreed.

A search firm also can help broaden the slate of candidates by calling and recruiting people who might not otherwise apply, he said.

Board members said it'll also be important to work with a search firm that has experience with publicly owned hospitals and is familiar with the open meeting law.

Under the open meeting law, a publicly owned hospital such as Rice is required to release the names of finalists for the CEO position. Finalist interviews with the hospital board also must be open to the public and to the news media.

Some board members voiced concern Wednesday that these requirements might discourage some qualified candidates from applying.

But Hustedt said the hospital and the search firm will "need to work within those bounds."

"Good candidates need to know up front that their name will be public when they become a finalist," he said.