DULUTH – St. Luke's, a regional health care provider and the city's second-largest employer, has made its interim co-chief executives permanent.

Chief Financial Officer Eric Lohn and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nick Van Deelen have been named co-presidents and co-CEOs of the Duluth-based health system and will continue to serve in their other roles as well.

"Beyond proving this dual leadership model is excellent for St. Luke's, they have also proven they are the right people to fill these roles," Herb Minke, chairman of St. Luke's board of directors, said in a news release Wednesday. "We have great confidence in them and their vision for St. Luke's as we focus on innovating how we care for patients and grow."

The two were named interim leaders in December after the abrupt departure of Kevin Nokels, who had served just 15 months as CEO.

The hospital, its board and Nokels all declined to share why he resigned at the time.

In a letter to patients announcing his own departure from St. Luke's, Dr. Stephen Turner wrote, "With the new administration's approach to its employee family, there have been many employee and provider resignations. The discontent went so far as to prompt the board of directors to encourage the newly minted CEO, Kevin Nokels, to resign."

The letter was made public in a court filing as part of a lawsuit between Turner and St. Luke's regarding provider pay cuts and his departure at the end of last year to a nearby competitor.

Van Deelen said in a statement in response: "Kevin Nokels' resignation was not a result of decisions made regarding compensation concessions or layoffs. St. Luke's has managed through the myriad challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic admirably and remains strong as an organization."

Van Deelen, chief medical officer for the past year who has worked for St. Luke's for 24 years, has been the public face of the health system lately, taking a leading role in news conferences regarding COVID-19.

"I value the board's trust in us and look forward to working with Eric and the great employees across our organization to continue living our mission of putting the patient above all else, as we grow our culture, services, quality and safety," Van Deelen said in Wednesday's news release.

Lohn, who has been finance chief at St. Luke's for the past eight years, said in a statement: "I feel fortunate to work with such a patient-centered leader in Van Deelen, along with all of my colleagues throughout our entire health care system."

Board Chairman Minke said the pair have "done a fantastic job of leading St. Luke's through unprecedented times during this pandemic."

St. Luke's has locations around Duluth, Two Harbors, Silver Bay, the Iron Range, Superior, Wis., and Ashland, Wis. In 2019 it had more than $526 million in revenue and about 2,300 employees in Duluth.

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496