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Highland Hospital begins assembling management team

05/07/2013 - The Exponent Telegram. By Jim Davis.

Eric Kennedy has been busy since he started his new job at Highland-Clarksburg Hospital. The chief operating officer of the Clarksburg psychiatric facility currently under construction has had several meetings with state Department of Health and Human Resources officials.

“I’ve had meetings with them regarding their needs for a partner in the community (to deal) with overcrowding in the state hospital system,” Kennedy said. “Those were good meetings, and they continue.”

Kennedy, who started April 10, is also preparing to interview candidates for key leadership positions at the 150-bed facility going in at the old United Hospital Center.

The mental health provider began advertising last week for a psychiatric medical director, nursing director and children’s services inpatient director.

“We hope to fill those within the next six to eight weeks,” he said.

With renovations at Highland-Clarksburg Hospital’s future home proceeding ahead of schedule, the leadership team needs to be in place to begin filling other positions.

“We’re anticipating opening 35 beds for children’s services in August or September, so we’ll need the appropriate amount of staff to provide those services,” Kennedy said.

“I don’t know that we’ll need to advertise for other positions,” he added. “We’ve got tons of applications.”

Highland-Clarksburg Hospital plans to employ 294 when the 150-bed facility is fully operational in January.

As of Sept. 30, the hospital had received almost 1,500 applications, officials have said.

Highland Hospital also has a mental health facility in Charleston.

Kennedy comes to Clarksburg from Phoenix, where he was chief executive officer of a psychiatric hospital. Prior to that, he was CEO at a psychiatric facility in Las Vegas.

But West Virginia is in his blood: He grew up on a farm in Monongalia County and earned his master’s degree in social work from West Virginia University.

Those Mountain State roots influenced his decision to accept the job at Highland-Clarksburg Hospital, Kennedy said.

“It was an opportunity to return home to where I was born and raised and where my family still lives, and the job is consistent with my profession,” Kennedy said.

Jim Dissen, president and chief executive officer of both Highland and Highland-Clarksburg hospitals, offered Kennedy the job.

But it was Dissen’s predecessor, Dave McWatters, who first contacted Kennedy about the position while Highland Hospital was seeking state approval to open the hospital.

“Once that was resolved, I contacted him, he came to town, and I interviewed him and was very impressed with his credentials,” Dissen said. “He had the experience, which is important at that level.

“And he was an individual who wanted to come back to West Virginia,” he added. “That tells me when you find a highly qualified individual who also has family ties, it’s going to be a long-term relationship.”

Kennedy hopes it’s a long-term relationship that translates into Highland-Clarksburg Hospital being the primary mental health provider in the region and state.

“I think we want to be the resource for the local community and statewide community,” Kennedy said. “We know the need is out there and want to be the premier provider.”