Love at first bite for new hospital CEO

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 5, 2011

By David Vitrano


LAPLACE – Although River Parishes Hospital’s new chief executive officer, Gerald Fornoff, may have the word “interim” before his title, there is nothing temporary about the dedication he has shown throughout his 40 years as a healthcare administrator.

Fornoff’s journey began far from his present home in Louisiana.

“I’m from right in the middle of Illinois,” said Fornoff.

Shortly after earning a psychology degree from Valparaiso University, Fornoff was drafted to go to Vietnam, where he served in a medical capacity.

Upon returning from overseas, he, like many veterans, had a difficult time finding employment. When Fornoff went to a job fair for veterans, he found he was the only college graduate of the bunch.

For this reason, someone at the job fair suggested he apply for one of several managerial openings at St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Ill.

That suggestion would change Fornoff’s life in more ways than he could imagine at the time. Not only did it set him on his career path, but it also provided the setting in which he would meet his wife, a nurse to whom he has been married for 37 years.

After stints at a couple of hospitals in Florida, Fornoff finished his graduate work in healthcare administration and joined HCA, a proprietary company that owns numerous hospitals and surgical centers across the U.S.

This affiliation sent Fornoff to Paris … Kentucky that is. He spent eight years in the Bluegrass State, but in 1993 he found himself on the move again.

“If you want to advance your career, you have to move,” Fornoff said of his employment with HCA. “It’s the downside but part of what you know you’re getting yourself into.”

His next move, however, would bring Fornoff to the realization that so many share when visiting Louisiana for the first time.

When he and his family went out to dinner on the first night in their new hometown of Lafayette, they chose famed Abbeville seafood house Black’s. There Fornoff ordered a dozen oysters — steamed.

He said although that earned him a quizzical look from the server, she did her best to accommodate his request by placing the oysters on a baking pan and putting them in the oven.

The next evening the Fornoff family went out for seafood again. His son wanted the boiled shrimp but did not want the spice that usually accompanies such an order in southern Louisiana. Fornoff said the server rinsed the spice from the orange, curled crustaceans to better suit the fourth-grader’s palate.

“Two days in a row these people went out of their way to accommodate us,” he said.

Those simple acts were enough to endear the people and the region as a whole to Fornoff. From October 1993 to July 2010 he was the CEO at hospitals in Lafayette, New Orleans, Mamou and Opelousas. By the middle of last year, however, Fornoff decided he had had enough.

“I decided I was just done with the stress level,” he said.

After retiring from the Opelousas General Health System, Fornoff tried his hand at consulting.

“That was kind of fun, but I was on the other side of the desk,” he said.

Desiring to return to healthcare administration, Fornoff applied for and got a position with a hospital in New Mexico, but he was unable to start when they needed him to, so he missed out on that opportunity.

But then something fortuitous happened.

“This opportunity (at River Parishes Hospital) presented itself,” he said. “I truly do believe God works in mysterious ways.”

Not only was it the type of employment opportunity for which he had been searching, but it also allowed Fornoff to stay close to his son, daughter-in-law and 18-month-old granddaughter, who live in Kenner.

“It’s been really nice in that respect,” he said.

Fornoff has now been with River Parishes Hospital for a little more than a month, and although he was officially brought in as an interim CEO, he has begun making the office his own by adding personal elements, such as artwork, to his surroundings. That is not to say all of the changes have been superficial, however.

“I’m accessible,” he said. “I make rounds every day.”

While he admits physicians get first priority for face time, Fornoff makes a point of letting every employee at the hospital have his or her voice be heard.

“Every employee is a marketing person for the hospital,” he said, adding, “I think we have an outstanding medical staff, outstanding managers and outstanding employees.”

Besides trying to raise the image of the medical facility, Fornoff said one of the goals of his administration is to target improvements to the specific needs of the community.

“That’s what we’re here doing,” he said. “Trying to serve the community and grow our hospital.”

He said one of the ways he will try to improve the facility in this age of budget constraints is to use River Parishes Hospital’s affiliation with LifePoint Hospitals.

“To me, that’s always been one of the things that nobody’s talking about,” he said. “You have the benefit of everybody’s data.”

Still, the needs of the local community remain his main priority.

“There are some things we’ll never be able to do,” he admitted before adding, “But we think there are still some unmet needs.”