MRH board offers Riley permanent CEO position

Memorial Regional Health's sign welcomes visitors to Craig's hospital.
Billy Schuerman / For the Craig Press

Craig’s hospital has chosen its next leader, deciding to extend an offer to the woman who’s been running the show since last fall to become its permanent top executive.

Jennifer Riley, who’s served as the interim chief executive officer for Memorial Regional Health since the resignation of previous CEO Andy Daniels in mid October, 2021, will drop the interim tag from her title and become the permanent CEO of the hospital following the decision by the MRH Board of Trustees to tender her an offer to take the reigns in full.

The board, which met Thursday evening with the item of naming a CEO on the agenda for the third time, arrived at the decision via a 6-0 vote, one board member abstaining.

Riley, speaking to the Craig Press last week in hopeful anticipation of the potential decision by the board, said this opportunity was one she didn’t take at all lightly.

“If I am named permanent CEO, I’ll be really excited,” Riley said. “It’s a humbling opportunity for me. I’ve spent 11 years learning health care, and when I started 11 years ago, I never contemplated that I’d be working toward becoming CEO.”

But, she said, it’s a chance to serve in a role that benefits the town where she was raised, something that meant a great deal to Riley.

“I feel very proud,” she said. “I never really knew if I’d be able to come back to Craig after I left high school and college. Getting to come back and, now, be a leader in this community — it’s really nice. It’s a great opportunity, and I love the fact that I know a lot of people, have relationships with a lot of people. I’m proud of that.”

Riley acknowledged that, as a member of the former hospital administration, which was at times deeply unpopular among a segment of the Moffat County population, she and her new administration faced a bit of an uphill climb among some members of the community in establishing trust and a positive relationship.

Jennifer Riley, newly named permanent CEO of Memorial Regional Health, poses for a portrait in the lobby of the hospital last fall.
Cuyler Meade / Craig Press

“If I get this opportunity to lead, I will have two priorities,” Riley said. “It’s people and culture, and it’s financial stability. You can’t really have one without the other. Those have been my focus areas since I started as interim CEO, and in the last five months, I’ve worked really hard to personally connect with staff.”

Riley didn’t dismiss the fact that her tenure as chief operating officer under Daniels may have some residents wondering why the hospital didn’t go another direction entirely. But, she said, she’s confident she can work to earn the trust that the hospital lacks.

“I can only address the problems I know, and I can only try to change perceptions in demonstrating different actions,” she said. “I’ve been on the administration team for 11 years, and part of my job was supporting the vision of the person in the CEO’s seat. I’ve done that. I’ve always voiced my opinions, and whoever was making the decisions sometimes listened, but sometimes didn’t. Ultimately, my job was to carry out the CEO’s vision. If I’m the CEO, I have a team telling me what they think.

“The truth is I have nothing to gain by not doing my best in this position. This is my hometown. This is my community hospital. This is where my family lives. I have everything to lose by not doing my best. We can’t ever make everybody happy with every decision we make, but we will always make the best decisions for our patients and our employees.”

Riley said the past is the past, but hopes the future can be special.

“I can’t undecide things that have been decided,” she said. “But I can look at doing things differently going forward.”

Aside from the challenges within the community, Riley is also facing financial and economic challenges, some unique to Moffat County, others universal across American healthcare.

But the truth is, Riley said, MRH is a community asset shouldering an enormous responsibility, and the job has to be done well.

“We have 360 employees who we want to keep employed,” Riley said. “We provide a critical service to the community. You don’t want to drive an hour if you’re having a heart attack. That all weighs on me. My priorities are people and finances. We have to be viable and we have to have good people working here. We want to create a culture that people want to be a part of and join. That keeps me up at night.”

The job isn’t easy, but Riley says she’s ready for it.

“The external pressures on healthcare are mounting,” Riley said. “Financial, regulatory — we have to keep an eye on all that. We have to do our jobs correctly. And we can’t do it at the detriment of all the people who work here.”

In arguing to appoint Riley to the permanent position, Hepworth pointed out that the process, despite not including a national search for the chief executive position.

“(The service) said she would be the top candidate in any search, by any hospital,” Hepworth said. “We would be hard-pressed to find another candidate of her quality to come in to Craig. Not only does she bring the knowledge of the hospital and community, but he has a commitment to Craig. We feel it would be in your best interest to hire her. Tonight is the culmination of that.”

Negotiations will commence immediately on a contract for Riley, after which point the position will presumably be formalized.

More Like This, Tap A Topic

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Craig and Moffat County make the Craig Press’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.