APPLETON — Appleton Area Health is without the leadership of the CEO credited with turning the system around from a fiscal crisis four years ago.

Lori Andreas announced in December her intentions to resign, but with expectations of continuing her role until June 30. About a month ago she told board members she was going to move her end date forward to March 26.

An interim CEO will be leading the health care system as the Appleton Area Health board of directors conducts a search for a successor to Andreas, according to Cory Thorsland, chairman of the municipal hospital board.

Thorsland said the board is working with the firm B.E. Smith both to provide an interim administrator as well as for help with recruiting a new CEO.

Cory Thorsland
Cory ThorslandPhoto courtesy of Appleton Area Health

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Board members had sent out requests for information from recruitment firms shortly after learning of Andreas’ decision to resign.

Thorsland said board members selected B.E. Smith due to its experience in recruiting administrators for rural Minnesota health systems. He noted that rural hospitals often face bigger challenges in recruiting administrators than those in larger, urban areas.

Andreas was unavailable for comment, but issued a statement in which she described her time with Appleton Area Health as an amazing experience and lauded its staff as extraordinary.

“(Appleton Area Health) is truly blessed to have such a wonderful group of people who will carry on the great work that this team has accomplished,” she stated.

Andreas took on her role with Appleton Area Health in 2017 after serving as chief operating officer with Johnson Memorial Health in Dawson. She is credited with leading the Appleton system out of a financial crisis, and for her success in recruiting new providers, improving staff morale and eliminating a high employee turnover rate.

Andreas did not announce intentions to take on a new position, but her departure is not a retirement. Angel Molden, communications and marketing director for Appleton Area Health, said Andreas intends to take a month or so off before pursuing her employment options.

Appleton Area Health and the Appleton City Council have been at odds since July, when the City Council voted to transfer responsibility for the ambulance service to the municipal hospital. The city had been levying $158,900 annually to support the ambulance service.

Appleton Area Health projected that taking over the ambulance service would result in a $30,000 to $40,000 annual loss for the health system.

Andreas cited concerns about taking on the transfer and its duties as well as the possible financial losses while the system was dealing with the challenges and fiscal uncertainties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chairman Thorsland said that, from his perspective, the transfer of the ambulance service to Appleton Area Health at the start of the year went seamlessly. He said his goal now is to see the relationship between the health system and city improve so that the two entities can move forward working together.

Thorsland said the health system remains in a good position. He noted that Appleton Area Health was recently recognized for its performance as a rural critical care hospital. The Chartis Center for Rural Health listed the Appleton health care system as among the Top 100 Critical Care Hospitals for 2021.