3 Senior Leaders Retire from Hospital and Clinic
Posted on Wednesday, June 16th, 2021
Richard Barker Connie Graham Connie Barker
Three senior members of the leadership team at Mercy Health/ Love County Hospital and Clinic retired in June. It is hard to imagine the place without them.
The retirees are Richard Barker, the hospital’s CEO/administrator, 48 years of service; Connie Graham, the hospital’s business office director, 28 years of service; and Connie Barker, the clinic’s director, with 40 years of medical office and hospital experience.
“Those three were the cream of the crop. We could have searched the nation and not found anyone better, not only for their ability, but for their ‘people person’ part. They truly cared for people,” said Jack Testerman, chair of the hospital’s Board of Control. “With them, it wasn’t just ‘here’s your thermometer,’ but ‘we really want to know what is wrong; we will take care of you and we will help you with your insurance problems.’ Their leadership was phenomenal.”
The Board named W. Scott Callender, the hospital’s controller, as interim administrator, effective June 11. Callender compiled 30 years of accounting experience with the hospitals in Ardmore and Love County prior to his appointment. He is a licensed CPA and holds master of business administration and bachelor of accounting degrees. He was raised in Dickson.
Misti Kirk was named interim clinic director. Kirk has 23 years of experience as the clinic’s billing and insurance specialist. Replacing Graham as business office director is Carla Bolton. She has been executive assistant to the hospital administrator since 2012.
The retirees were honored at a staff luncheon on June 3. Also back to receive her plaque was Linda Dixon, former manager of Health Information (medical records) Services. At the time of retirement, for health reasons, in October 2020, Dixon was the longest-serving coworker, with 47 years of experience.
The hospital will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2022, having opened on January 30, 1972. The coworkers’ spirit of humble service was set by beloved physicians Dr. Vergil Smith until his death in 2013, and Dr. J.T. O’Connor until his retirement in 2012.
Previous administrators were Walter Lake and Jerry Cole.
Testerman made these additional points:
- An administrator succession plan had been in place for the past three years, with Callender the focus, as Richard Barker planned for retirement in 2021. He was Oklahoma’s longest-serving hospital administrator, with 31 years at the helm. The Thackerville native had clinical experience as the hospital’s respiratory therapist prior to going into management. He acquired graduate degrees in hospital administration and business, and the esteemed Fellow of the American College of Health Care Executives designation.
- After verging on bankruptcy during a turbulent period for rural hospitals in 1990, Mercy Health/Love County became one of the most financially adept small hospitals in Oklahoma. Yearly it breaks even or slightly better. Nationally, it has been recognized as a “Community Star” among hospitals with critical-access licensure.
- Love County residents back their county-owned hospital with a penny sales tax, and they support their county ambulance service with a three-mill property tax. The hospital manages the ambulance service. The hospital also benefits from trust funds, including the Brannan Trust, the Ed F. and Jessie McGehee estate, and the C.C. Wilkins estate.
- There will be a continuation of alliances already in place with valued other entities. The hospital pays a management fee to Mercy Ardmore to lease employees with Mercy benefits and to engage in the bulk purchase of equipment and supplies. With the Chickasaw Nation, the hospital has a contractual arrangement to perform ambulance and fire services for WinStar Casino. It is, uniquely, the first hospital in the U.S. to manage an EMS/ fire brigade.
- Notable assets include a 25-bed hospital, emergency room, emergency communications center, community room, clinic building, rehabilitation therapy building, social services building, adult day center building, ambulance stations, EMT/parademic training centers at the hospital and casino, food pantry, growers’ market, and Legacy Park recreational trail. Total staff numbers more than 150 coworkers. Among them are five primary care providers and five physician assistants.
“There’s just no way these physical and manpower improvements could happen without a very skilled money manager, and Richard was that, as well as a topnotch people person,” Testerman said. “It is an exceptional place to work and an exceptional place to get health care, in my opinion. As far as acute care, we give better service here. Over the years, when talking to nurses or anybody else to ask why they joined, they said they just liked this place better. They like the attitude and the camaraderie.”
Testerman is a retired business executive and management professor. Also serving on the Hospital Board of Control are Bob Brannan, Andrea Locke, Lenna Radde, and Steve Smith, Jr. The members are appointed by the Love County Board of County Commissioners.