Merlis to succeed Kowal as GBMC's chief executive

`Rave reviews' in N.J. helped board decide

May 18, 1999|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

The GBMC HeathCare Inc.'s board of directors said yesterday that it has chosen an executive from a New Jersey health system to replace its retiring president and chief executive officer.

Laurence M. Merlis will take over after Robert P. Kowal, 57, steps down at the end of June to run a bed and breakfast he recently purchased in California's Sonoma Valley. Merlis, 44, has served as executive vice president of Meridian Health System Inc. in Wall, N.J., since 1997. He was responsible for all operations involving the system's four hospitals -- with a total of 1,300 beds -- and its home care, long-term-care and ambulatory-care divisions. The system had revenue of $550 million last year.

Merlis was president and chief executive of a New Jersey hospital for five years before it was merged with three others to become Meridian.

"I did some research and it was obvious that GBMC had a brand name in the marketplace and that its reputation was stellar," Merlis said yesterday from his New Jersey office. "This was an opportunity to become president and CEO of a really high-quality organization that has a very special niche in the marketplace. In health care, sometimes bigger isn't always better -- superiority is, and GBMC has a superior medical staff and employees."

GBMC HeathCare includes the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, with 372 beds, three doctors' office buildings and a nursing center. It had operating revenue of $259 million last year.

Witt and Associates, a national search firm, produced a list of 30 applicants that was eventually whittled to five finalists who were interviewed by the board, said GBMC board Chairman Benjamin R. Civiletti.

Merlis was chosen because of "his track record of both running a hospital and doing a good job at Meridian, and rave reviews by the physicians and staff at Meridian," Civiletti said. "We wanted a proven CEO if we could get one, and he has good experience with fee-for-service practice and managed care."

Civiletti said he expects Merlis to help the health system develop a women's cancer center and place a heavier emphasis on women's health and quality of care. Merlis, who is moving to Baltimore with his wife, Ryder Wood, will start his new job July 7.

GBMC grew considerably during Kowal's 15-year tenure, jumping from the eighth-largest hospital in the state to No. 3. Revenue grew from $60 million to $259 million last year with employment jumping from 1,600 to 3,600. Programs that were begun or greatly expanded under his tenure include the cancer center, neurosurgery, genetic research and laparoscopic surgery.

"I will continue to work on the strategy of growing GBMC to include services they currently don't provide, and those that they do I'd like to continue to expand and make more successful in the marketplace to make sure it is the hospital of choice," Merlis said, adding that he did not have any major changes in mind.

John Lloyd, the president of Meridian, said he and the staff are "very disappointed" to see Merlis leave.

"He's very knowledgeable and skilled in health care; he has excellent interpersonal skills; and he works extremely well with the board members, employees, medical staff and members of the community," Lloyd said. "I think he will be very successful in his position there."

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