NCHC CEO/CFO resignation begs questions about the organization's future
The structural change is being quietly pushed through on the county's health care organization
Jill Meschke was named interim CEO of North Central Health Care July 28 — on Jan. 28, a Friday afternoon, the organization announced her resignation.
That means Meschke served for six months as an interim CEO of a major health care organization, while also serving as its Chief Financial Officer. NCHC, as it’s known in the community, serves the state-mandated county health care needs of three counties: Marathon, Langlade and Lincoln. It’s a quasi-governmental body that pools three county’s resources to operate more efficiently.
To wit: Mount View Care Center, the county’s nursing home. The nursing home recently underwent a major renovation, both downsizing as more seniors age in place and nursing home admittance declines (COVID-19 accelerated a trend already ID’d in 2016; and upgrading to a four-tower facility with increased efficiency and frankly much better comfort of the residents. (For example, the nursing home now has its own kitchen, so food doesn’t need to be carted a quarter mile through the cavernous maze of hallways on the campus.)
Sources say Meschke was well-liked. People inside the organization thought she was doing a pretty good job, even while apparently doing double duty as CEO and CFO.
The resignation raises questions: Why was she interim CEO for six months without much seeming progress on hiring a new CEO? While also maintaining her job as CFO, a demanding enough job in and of itself?
A former board member told The Wausonian that the county is once again angling toward a single-county health department model. This happened before, in 2016 when then-CEO Gary Bezucha was running the show. This was in response to what county leaders said was a lack of transparency and cooperation between NCHC and the county, leading to poor outcomes. (An example: county law enforcement claimed, with pretty good evidence, that the jail was a dumping ground for anyone with mental health issues in lieu of getting good mental health treatment; today that situation is much different, with programs such as the Crisis Assessment Response Team comprised of officers and mental health workers to respond to mental health crises.)
After the 2016 crisis, things changed dramatically for the organization: new oversights were put in place. Under CEO Michael Loy, the organization was financially going in the right direction, and working on reducing any dependence on county tax levy. New programs such as the CART team and the psychiatric residency program kicked off.
But then in 2020 a financial report obtained by The Wausonian showed things going in a bad direction. The report revealed a $3.9 million shortfall, and COVID was a big part but not the entire story. Major staffing shortages didn’t help — shortages lead to overtime, which is expensive, and increased pay in order to retain and recruit.
Loy ultimately resigned for either setting up a loan program as a retention effort1, covertly or just against the wishes of certain county leaders, depending on who you ask. The deeper issue at play is compensation — Loy and some board members felt the organization needed to increase incentives and pay in order to attract the best talent. Other board members felt the pay should be more in line with government. That’s where that quasi-government aspect gets sticky. Is it a government department, or a medical organization? The answer to both is “yes,” and that’s what makes it complicated.
One board member was so disgusted with the board’s treatment of Loy he resigned — Ben Bliven (also the police chief of Wausau) had some pretty scathing remarks about the board’s conduct on his way out.
Remember how we said that a former NCHC board member claimed there was a push to go back to a single county department structure? A new contract that makes significant changes to the structure of North Central Health Care and the committees that govern it is under legal review before going to their respective boards later this month. It allows for a something closer to a single-county structure, and also puts the hiring and firing of a CEO into the hands of a small handful of people. And it’s being pushed as “not significant.”