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HCA Healthcare CEO, 36-year system veteran to retire amid period of expansion, solid financials

R. Milton Johnson will be succeeded by current President and COO Sam Hazen, but will remain board chair through April.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

HCA Headquarters in Nashville. Credit: Rusty Russell/Getty ImagesHCA Headquarters in Nashville. Credit: Rusty Russell/Getty Images

HCA Healthcare CEO and long-time executive R. Milton Johnson will step down from his lead post effective the end of December, the system announced. Milton is a 36-year veteran of the Nashville-based system. 

Johnson will retire as CEO effective December 31, 2018 but will remain chairman of HCA's board of directors through their April 2019 shareholders' meeting.

HCA's current president and COO Sam Hazen will succeed Johnson as CEO on January 1, 2019. The board of directors plans to appoint Thomas F. Frist III, a current board member, as the new board chair. Frist is the son of HCA's founder Thomas Frist, Jr. and has been a board member since 2006. He also chairs the finance and investments committee. The Frist family owns approximately 20 percent of HCA Healthcare's outstanding shares.

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During Milton's tenure, HCA saw revenue growth from $34.2 billion in 2013 to $43.6 billion in 2017. HCA also invested roughly $13 billion in capital expenditures and returned more than $10 billion in cash to shareholders through share repurchases and dividends. The system's stock price rose over 275 percent.

"I remain excited about the company's future and have strongly endorsed Sam as the right person to lead the company; his leadership has greatly contributed to our success," he said.

Hazen has also been with the company for more than three decades. Before his role as president and COO, he served as chief operating officer, president-operations, Western Group president and Western Group CFO.

The announcement comes during a time of growth and change for the system, who also recently announced a major $1.5 billion acquisition deal with North Carolina-based Mission Health.

The deal is pending regulatory approval, including an evaluation by the North Carolina Attorney General of any potential effect the transaction could have on market competition, whether the selling price is fair and how proceeds resulting from the sale will continue to benefit western North Carolina.

Mission Health would still be managed locally, but HCA's capabilities in operations, capital access, clinical trials, research, predictive modeling, analytics and other areas would be integrated. Under the terms of the agreement, nearly all Mission Health facilities and clinics will become part of HCA Healthcare but will bear the Mission brand. HCA will keep in place key clinical services for a minimum of five years and all rehabilitation and acute-care hospitals will remain open for at least 10 years.

Also, the system has long list of capital improvement projects in the works to the tune of $500 million. The expansion projects include six of its hospitals over the next three years: TriStar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville plans on adding four floors to its hospital and a new joint replacement center for $124 million; Tristar Summit Medical Center will add a medical/surgical bed unit; and TriStar StoneCrest Medical Center will add 17 hospital beds and expand its behavioral health and emergency room.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
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