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Search Begins for Phoebe’s Next CEO as Joel Wernick Announces Retirement


After a stellar 30-year career at Phoebe during which he oversaw incredible growth of the organization, Phoebe Putney Health System (PPHS) President & CEO Joel Wernick announced he will retire next year. “Joel has been an incredible asset to Phoebe and to our entire region of the state for three decades,” said PPHS Board Chairman Lem Griffin. “His years of dedicated experience will be missed, but we plan to conduct a thorough national search to identify a person best-suited to lead Phoebe into the future.” 

Mr. Wernick is the longest currently serving health system CEO in Georgia and likely one of the longest-tenured in the country. Two years ago, Mr. Wernick agreed to a 3-year service agreement extension, which ends May 2019 at his standard retirement age of 65. Mr. Wernick agreed to officially notify the board of his plans with regard to retirement at least one year before the end of the contract. Formal notification of Mr. Wernick’s intent to retire was given to the chair earlier this year and to the full Health System Board last week. A leadership succession process has been initiated and will seek to identify qualified candidates for board consideration.

“Joel will work with us to make the transition to new leadership as seamless as possible,” Griffin said. “If it takes us longer than 12 months to get the right person in place, Joel has graciously agreed to stay on board as long as needed. If we are able to identify a candidate sooner, Joel will help in that transition as well. We will work together to do what is best for our patients, our employees and our entire organization,” Griffin added. 

Mr. Wernick came to Phoebe as President & CEO in 1988 from Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, Florida. During his tenure, he implemented an overall strategy to increase access to quality primary, specialty and inpatient care to people throughout southwest Georgia. That strategy has resulted in tremendous growth of the physician and advanced practice provider community in our region. It included the formation of the Phoebe Physician Group, Phoebe Family Medicine Residency and partnerships with the Medical College of Georgia and University of Georgia College of Pharmacy.  

“I am proud to be part of the teamwork needed over the years to grow our medical community and to provide complex, comprehensive healthcare southwest Georgians used to have to travel far from home to receive,” Wernick said. “It means so much to patients and their families – and to me as well – to know folks stay right here in our part of the state to get care that will improve and often save their lives. In many cases, those services would not exist here without Phoebe.”  

Over the last 25 plus years, Phoebe employment has grown by over 3000 Phoebe Family members, making it the largest employer in southwest Georgia and an essential engine driving  the region’s economy. The health system expanded to include Phoebe Sumter Medical Center, Phoebe Worth Medical Center, more than 15 primary and urgent care clinics and nearly 30 specialty care clinics in counties throughout southwest Georgia.

“While we have built many green-roofed care facilities, I like to remind us all -- buildings don’t take care of people, people take care of people. And I am humbled every day to be associated with the compassion and dedication the members of the Phoebe Family show to those we serve,” Wernick said.

At a time when many Georgia hospitals are faced with closure or significant service retrenchment, Phoebe has maintained strong financial fundamentals. This board-driven fiscal discipline has enabled continued growth and clinical innovation. “For more than 100 years, this community has had an uninterrupted stream of dedicated, unpaid servant leaders providing fiduciary oversight and assuring Phoebe provides the healthcare services citizens of southwest Georgia deserve and expect,” Wernick said. “Phoebe’s governance excellence is what attracted me to Albany. It is what has sustained me during a long tenure, and it is a legacy that will live long after I’m gone.”

Mr. Griffin has appointed a Search Committee which has already started the search process. The committee expects numerous highly-qualified internal and external candidates to apply for the position. Over the coming months, the committee will closely evaluate all applicants with the assistance of a nationally-recognized healthcare executive search consulting firm before presenting several finalists to the full PPHS Board for consideration.​​