After 18 months without a permanent CEO, Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services has named James Hereford as its next president and chief executive.

Hereford, who will start the job in December, currently serves as chief operations officer at Stanford Health Care in California.

Earlier this year, Fairview delayed further talks on its proposed acquisition of UCare, a Minneapolis-based health insurer, until a new CEO was in place. On Thursday, Fairview officials were not available for interviews.

“James is passionate about patient care, driving outcomes and advancing health care for our country,” said David Murphy, Fairview board chair and interim CEO, in a statement. “He has strong experience strategically guiding organizations, strengthening core operations and bringing teams together to drive cultural change.”

Fairview operates one of the state’s largest networks of hospitals and clinics. It includes the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis, Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina and health care operations throughout the metro and in northern Minnesota.

With about 24,000 employees overall, the health system also owns a pharmacy business and senior housing that includes long-term care facilities.

At Stanford, Hereford had responsibility for inpatient and ambulatory operations, Fairview said in a news release. The executive helped develop the system’s strategy to become an “accountable care organization,” where the government and insurers ask health care systems to take financial risk for some care costs.

Before his role at Stanford, Hereford was chief operations officer at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, and served as executive vice president of the Group Health Care Delivery System in Seattle. A Montana native, Hereford earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from Montana State University.

“I look forward to joining Fairview and helping advance its mission to heal, discover and educate for longer, healthier lives,” Hereford said in a statement. His Fairview appointment is effective Dec. 12.

The proposed UCare deal would add to Fairview’s presence in the local health insurance market. Earlier this year, the health system increased its ownership stake in PreferredOne, a health insurer based in Golden Valley.

Both health insurers have seen struggles.

Last year, UCare eliminated more than 200 jobs after losing the bulk of its business in the Medicaid and MinnesotaCare programs through a statewide competitive bid. Fairview took over PreferredOne after providing a loan of $18.75 million following the insurer’s large financial losses in the individual market, including the state’s MNsure health insurance exchange.

Last year, Fairview and a doctors group called University of Minnesota Physicians proposed a merger, but the deal fell apart this summer. Since then, the U has said it is looking for partnerships with other organizations, while Fairview has stressed that it continues to work with the university through an existing affiliation agreement.

Fairview had operating income last year of $140 million on about $3.9 billion in revenue.


Twitter: @chrissnowbeck