Tri-City executive Anderson is alone at the top
OCEANSIDE — Throughout several careers, and especially in his current role as chief executive officer of Tri-City Medical Center, Larry Anderson has relied on the contents of his rolodex to get things done. But he has also shown a willingness to scuttle diplomacy and simply attack.
The hospital’s elected governing board tapped Anderson to run the hospital temporarily early this year after abruptly placing Tri-City’s former executive director, Arthur Gonzalez, and his administrative team, on paid leave for vague reasons.
Today, Anderson is alone at the top.
Eschewing a formal search for a new leader, four of seven hospital board members eliminated “interim” from Anderson’s title in July. A $480,000-per-year, 18-month contract started on September 1.
Anderson has moved quickly on many fronts, from trying to refinance the hospital’s debt to suing rival Scripps Health over its patient referral practices, which caused a temporary 30 percent drop in surgery volume at Tri-City.
Anderson’s first major foray on Tri-City’s behalf came in early April when he led a convoy of hospital officials to Sacramento, where they lobbied successfully for reclassification of Tri-City’s two oldest buildings, the central and south towers.
Both structures were scheduled to be closed or replaced by 2013 because they were out of compliance with state earthquake standards. Anderson and his team convinced state officials that the buildings earthquake risk was lower than originally thought, giving the hospital until 2030 to repair or replace them.
Anderson’s style impressed board members, who had been told for years that there was no way to buy extra time for the buildings.
“He certainly has some buttons that he can push, at least to try to get some help,” hospital board member Larry Schallock said.
Anderson has had more difficulty finding a bank or other investor to refinance more than $50 million in loans that carry a hefty interest rate.
In a recent interview, Anderson said he believes a man can be measured by relationships that remain long after he has left a particular job.
“Along my career, and in different ways and in different places, I have made a lot of relationships,” Anderson said. “Those relationships are paying big dividends already for Tri-City.”
In business meetings, and in interactions with the public, Anderson often seems slightly detached, as if he is watching a play unfold after already having read the script. When he does jump in, he eschews small talk and often goes straight at issues with plain talk rather than platitudes.
Dr. Richard Burruss, former chief of Tri-City’s medical staff, sat next to Anderson during the tumultuous period that followed the board’s grounding of Gonzalez and his executive team.
Burruss said it has taken some time to become accustomed to Anderson’s sometimes direct style.
“He’s definitely more aggressive. I think he’s a person you would definitely want with you if you were in a street fight,” Burruss said. “I don’t think he’s intimidated by anybody.”
The relationship hit a public snag at a hospital board meeting in April, when Anderson pointed out that a press conference held by frustrated doctors questioning the governing system for the hospital caused a lender to back out of a pending financing deal.
“Sorry, Richard, lenders don’t like to see that,” Anderson told a visibly irritated Burruss in front of a packed board meeting.
The doctor, a well-known and well-liked member of the local medical community, said he finds Anderson’s no-holds-barred communication style somewhat refreshing.
“I find it helpful to know where he stands,” Burruss said. “He’ll tell me when he’s got a problem with what I’m doing, and I’ll tell him when I have a problem with what he’s doing. We can shake hands and get back to work.”
It’s a style that’s familiar to those who have dealt with Anderson. John Luster is a family practice physician with Chapman Medical Center in Orange County who said he negotiated with Anderson over a doctors’ benefit package.
He said he found Anderson, who was then the president of a four-hospital system based in Santa Ana, to be a tough negotiator.
“He was a pretty hard-nosed guy,” Luster said. “I think in some business areas, that’s an advantage. (But) in the position he was in, I think that you have to court physicians, rather than treat them as adversaries.”
Anderson reacted with a shrug to the notion that some find him aggressive.
“I think I also have a soft side,” he said. “I think most of the people here have seen that.”
To see that soft side, simply ask Anderson about his daughter’s recent wedding in Ireland. The doting father said that he rented a full castle — all 21 rooms — for the wedding. He speaks with an equally proud look in his eye about his other daughter’s budding acting career in New York and about his son’s high school football career as a stalwart nose tackle.
A Los Angeles native, Anderson married his wife, Shirley, in 1976, one year after graduating from Loyola University School of Law. The couple has raised three children, the oldest of which is now a public defender in San Bernardino.
The 60-year-old father and husband commutes daily to the Oceanside hospital from his home in south Orange County’s Coto de Caza master-planned community. He said Friday that he intends to move to North County.
Anderson’s personal style, at least in public meetings, is understated. He is something of a rarity in the ranks of executives: He doesn’t play golf. Leisure time is instead spent fishing. He said he owns an ocean-going powerboat moored at a local marina. He takes it out, he said, when time allows, looking to land yellowfin tuna and other trophy fish. In his younger days, he said, weight lifting and downhill skiing were serious pursuits.
A look at Anderson’s past shows an executive who has never shied from confrontation.
During a 30-year career with the U.S. Postal Service, Anderson battled against workers compensation fraud, even testifying about it before a congressional subcommittee.
Anderson retired from the postal service in 2001 after climbing through the ranks from the front lines in the Los Angeles area to postal headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he served as manager of the service’s safety and compliance division.
It was there that he began working on health care-related issues, supervising, he said, a group of 100 doctors and multiple clinics under contract with the service.
After leaving the postal service, Anderson moved his family back to California, eventually finding a job as general counsel with Alta Healthcare Group, which owned and operated multiple hospitals in Los Angeles.
After less than one year, Anderson left to form his own company, which raised capital to purchase four Orange County hospitals in 2005. Press clippings from Orange County newspapers show that the ink was not dry on the purchase contract before friction began.
Court records show that Anderson found himself in conflict with some doctors who were part owners of the holding company that he helped create. At one point he sued a doctor for critical comments made in an e-mail to other area doctors which, he said at the time, derailed a financing deal. Anderson ultimately lost the lawsuit on appeal.
Anderson left the company, Integrated Healthcare Holdings Inc., in December, 2007, after signing a an agreement not to talk about the company’s business and receiving a settlement that published reports put at more than $400,000.
He later gave a pivotal deposition on behalf of the same doctors’ group that he once opposed, laying responsibility for the turmoil at the company at the feet of its former CEO. The case involved conflicting versions of events, including charges of a planted gun and false testimony.
These and other details of his past have been discovered by some local Tri-City watchers. Among them is former board member Darlene Garrahy, who brought up Anderson’s job history during a recent board meeting.
“This gentleman has never run a hospital. Google him,” Garrahy said.
Like a boxer hit with an unanticipated upper cut, Anderson took the next opportunity to hit back.
“I take umbrage at Darlene Garrahy’s attack at me,” Anderson said.
In a subsequent interview, the executive did not quibble with Garrahy’s statement. It is true, he said, that all of his health care jobs have involved running systems of hospitals or purchasing hospitals. Still, he said, the statement that he has never been the chief executive officer of a single hospital is beside the point.
“Most (hospital) CEOs work for people like me,” he said. “I’ve done things that hospital CEOs never get a chance to do.”
For example, he said that his time at Alta and IHHI had him negotiating directly with health insurance companies, something he said a CEO of a single hospital seldom experiences.
Anderson has both fans and detractors in his past.
Some, like Dr. David H. Reid, chief medical officer for the U.S. Postal Service, are unabashed fans. Reid, who said he worked with Anderson daily, paints a picture of an executive who is definitely skilled in health care management. Anderson was “knowledgeable, trustworthy and highly competent” in his time working for the service.
“He’s a nice person,” Reid said. “Larry’s a good guy. I think he would be an asset to any organization that wanted to hire him.”
James T. Ligon, on the other hand, is critical of Anderson’s decision making.
He said he was one of three partners that formed Integrated Healthcare Holdings, the Orange County company that Anderson left for undisclosed reasons in late 2007.
Ligon, who left the company shortly after it formed, said he disagreed with several deals Anderson made with doctors.
“He just ruined the company as far as I’m concerned,” Ligon said.
While he said his nondisclosure agreement with IHHI prevents him from rebutting Ligon’s claims, Anderson said that the company had its first profitable quarter when he left in 2007.
He added that any company president has to make tough choices in the course of doing business, and those tough choices, he said, are bound to rub some the wrong way.
In the end, he said, he is proudest of his oldest friendships, those that stretch back to high school.
“If a person has many of the same friends they did in the beginning, they usually have integrity,” Anderson said.