The St. Paul-based hospital operator HealthEast has hired a new CEO with strong Midwestern roots and a career in community-based health care.

Kathryn Correia is senior vice president of Appleton, Wis.-based ThedaCare, a private nonprofit health system serving central Wisconsin. She also is president of two of the system's five primary and acute care hospitals, Appleton Medical Center and Theda Clark Medical Center. Correia, an Ohio native, has been with ThedaCare for 18 years.

HealthEast CEO Tim Hanson, now at the mandatory retirement age of 65, is stepping down after 22 years in the post and 39 years with HealthEast.

"We were very impressed with [Correia's] record ... in improving quality and safety and in working with physicians," said Fred Harris, chairman of the HealthEast board. "We want someone with that passion and experience to continue leading us in that direction."

HealthEast is the state's 10th-largest hospital organization, with 7,300 employees and 1,500 physicians, It operates 15 clinics in St. Paul and the east metro area as well as Bethesda and St. Joseph's hospitals in St. Paul, St. John's Hospital in Maplewood and Woodwinds Health Campus in Woodbury.

Correia, who takes over in early January, will face challenges. HealthEast claims to be the market share leader in the east metro area, but it faces stiff competition from Allina's United Hospital and HealthPartners' Regions Hospital.

A Moody's analyst's report in February gave HealthEast low bond ratings and noted poor cash flow. Operating income was $12.8 million vs. $5.3 million in 2009.

Correia earlier worked at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis and held leadership positions at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa., and Central Ohio Medical Group in Columbus.

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335