Hospital CEOs are leaving at increasingly higher rates in Mississippi since the pandemic.

The state’s hospital CEO turnover rate was 17% in 2021, according to the most recently available data from the American College of Healthcare Executives. 

The percentage has been creeping upward since 2019. It went from 10%, considered a “low” turnover rate by the ACHE, to 13% in 2020, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and shot up 4 more percentage points the next year.

Now, Mississippi’s turnover rate is “high,” according to the organization. 

The percentage of hospital CEO turnover has fluctuated over the past decade — Mississippi’s highest turnover rate was 27% in 2014. But Tim Moore, president and CEO of the Mississippi Hospital Association, said recent numbers are concerning. 

“Mostly, I think it’s a testament to how difficult the job is now,” he said. 

Just this month, the CEOs of Singing River Health System on the Gulf Coast and St. Dominic Memorial Hospital in Jackson, two of the biggest hospital systems in Mississippi, resigned from their positions to lead hospitals elsewhere. 

Moore, who was a hospital executive himself for more than two decades, said the job is nonstop and has only gotten more demanding since the pandemic.

“There’s no question it had a huge impact, and a lot of that goes back to the financial perspective,” he said. “You can't get to the position where your revenues exceed expenses. There's no business that can survive that. So that's the situation they’re in currently and trying to figure out.”

Hospitals are struggling in Mississippi and across the country, decimated by the pandemic. The Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform puts a third of the state’s rural hospitals at risk of closure within a few years. 

And as the state of health care gets increasingly precarious, one study found that CEO exits nationwide hit a four-year-high in January of this year.

Data from the ACHE show that nationally, hospital CEO turnover rates have generally remained steady from 2012 to 2021, aside from 2013 when the percentage shot up to 20%. In 2021, the most recently available year, the rate was 16%. 

The organization also found that hospital CEOs were most concerned about workforce challenges, which includes personnel shortages and staff burnout. 

Doctors and nurses have gotten more expensive, Moore said, and harder to come by. Data from Moore’s organization show that Mississippi’s nurse vacancy and turnover rates have skyrocketed in the past decade.

“You're just … you're up against another wall,” he said. 

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Devna Bose, a Neshoba County native, covers community health. She is a 2019 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied print journalism and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Before joining Mississippi Today, Devna reported on education at Chalkbeat Newark and at the Post and Courier’s Education Lab, and on race and social justice at the Charlotte Observer. Her work has appeared in the Hechinger Report, the Star-Ledger and the Associated Press, and she has appeared on WNYC to discuss her reporting. Devna has been awarded for her coverage of K-12 education in the Carolinas.