May 3, 2002

Children’s Hospital names chief officer

Featured Image

Children’s Hospital names chief officer

James E. Shmerling, president of Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center in Memphis, has been named chief executive officer of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Shmerling will assume his new duties at Vanderbilt on June 17.

The newly created CEO position signals the expected 2003 completion of Middle Tennessee’s first and only freestanding children’s hospital.

Shmerling said he was honored to become a part of an impressive pool of talent and that Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital has all of the ingredients to propel it to national status.

“It is just a tremendous opportunity to be able to participate in the building of a new children’s hospital from the ground up,” said Shmerling. “It made the offer very attractive. I’m impressed with the community support that Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital has earned and the broad support of the pediatricians and physicians across the state.

“I am presently going through the difficult process of saying goodbye to the staff at Le Bonheur, of which I’ve been associated with for the past 11 years.”

Shmerling holds a doctorate in health administration from the Medical University of South Carolina, a master of business administration degree from Samford University, a master of science in hospital and healthcare administration from the University of Alabama and a bachelor of science degree from the Univer-sity of Tennessee. He is a native Nashvillian and a graduate of the Peabody Demonstration School, now the University School of Nashville.

He will be joined in Nashville by his wife Debbie and their youngest daughter, who will be a freshman in high school. He has three other children who are attending different universities across the country.

In addition to Le Bonheur, he has held leadership positions at the James Whitcomb Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis and the Children’s Hospital of Alabama in Birmingham.

Le Bonheur closely mirrors the makeup of the 206-bed Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Founded in 1952, Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center has 225 beds and a medical staff of 500. It is part of the Methodist Healthcare system and has a teaching agreement with the University of Tennessee Department of Pediatrics.

Norman Urmy, executive vice president for Clinical Affairs and chief executive officer of Vanderbilt University Hospital, chaired the search committee and said Shmerling was a perfect fit for the new position. His selection came after a national search by Witt-Kieffer, a professional consulting and search firm.

“We had several great candidates, but Jim Shmerling presented with a combination of experience and a proven leader in the children’s hospital environment,” Urmy said. “The fact that he is from Tennessee, understands TennCare and knows the leaders in the state is an added bonus.”

As chief executive officer, Shmerling will be responsible for the day-to-day operations, financial performance, development, advocacy, community relations and strategic planning. He will report directly to Urmy.

He joins Dr. Arnold Strauss, James C. Overall Professor and Chair of Pediatrics, as the team prepares for the new hospital’s opening. Strauss is medical director and pediatrician-in-chief of the new hospital.

“I am really excited about his coming,” Strauss said. “He is a proven leader who has tremendous experience in three excellent children’s hospitals and is well known nationally in children’s hospital leadership circles.”

Strauss said the hiring of a CEO will allow him more time to concentrate on academic affairs, including research, which will be vital to the hospital’s goal of becoming a “top 10” nationally recognized children’s hospital.

“We will be working very closely together,” he explained. “A two-person team with the same values for children — that of putting quality patient care first.” Shmerling said Le Bonheur had a positive operating margin, despite a patient care mix with more than 60 percent of their children on TennCare and Medicaid.

“I am well versed in TennCare,” he said. “But it’s important to make your priorities to provide the appropriate level of services and taking care of the child’s needs. When you follow that with meeting the needs of the physicians and staff, the financials will fall into place.”

Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, vice chancellor for Health Affairs, emphasized the importance of a strong Children’s Hospital. "Meeting the health care needs of children is of critical importance to this community," he said. "We are investing $200 million in building the world’s best center for the care of children and their families. Jim Shmerling is the world-class executive we need to run this extraordinary new hospital."

Monroe Carell Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Central Parking System and a member of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust since 1991, is leading the fund-raising effort for Children’s Hospital. He provided the lead gift in the 1999 fund-raising campaign by donating $20 million.

Carell said he met with Shmerling early in the interview process and was impressed with his knowledge and leadership abilities.

“We’re just very pleased that he has agreed to come to Vanderbilt,” Carell said. “He becomes another important part of our leadership team which will make us a world-class Children’s Hospital.”

Carell said Shmerling’s father is a doctor, and his understanding of the physicians’ role would be important in his new leadership position.

Shmerling’s father is a retired internist who went to college and medical school at Vanderbilt. His mother and father live in Nashville, along with a brother, sister and grandmother.

“I think it’s a very positive thing to be hiring a CEO,” Carell said. “It’s going to be a great addition to our team that includes Dr. Strauss and our other physician leaders.”

One of Shmerling’s first challenges is to prepare for the opening of the new Children’s Hospital.

“I plan to immediately immerse myself in the construction project, acclimate myself to the culture and meet with the physicians and staff,” he said.

The CEO search committee included VUMC Chief Nursing Officer Marilyn Dubree, Dr. Arnold Strauss, Dr. Dan Beauchamp, Dr. J. Richard Wagers Jr., Dr. Tom Graham, Dr. Neil Green, Dr. David Thombs, and community member Mary Lee G. Bartlett.

The new Children’s Hospital, standing at the corner of Capers Avenue and 22nd Avenue South, will have many new features that maximize the concept of family-centered care, which has been a major design consideration throughout the hospital. Also, for the first time in its 30-year history, Children’s Hospital will be able to offer most inpatient and outpatient services in one location.

An 11-story facility will connect to the eight-story Children’s Hospital and will provide space for most outpatient clinic services. These services are currently spread over five buildings on the Vanderbilt University Medical Center campus.