CEO of Northeast Georgia Health System Resigns

The chief executive officer of Northeast Georgia Health System resigned this week.

Jim Gardner, who has run the Gainesville-based system since 2004, oversaw a major expansion of the system's hospital. He was also instrumental in gaining state approval for the system's plan to build a new 100-bed hospital in the Braselton area.

"At age 53, my professional curiosity drives me to explore the challenge of working with another organization that isn’t as prepared for the future as NGHS," Gardner said in a statement.

Carol Burrell, executive vice president and chief operating officer, was appointed to serve as interim CEO of the not-for-profit health system. In addition to its Gainesville hospital, the system operates three urgent care centers, a mental health and substance abuse treatment center, two outpatient imaging centers, two long-term care centers and outpatient physical, occupational and speech therapy clinics.

While Gardner was known for leading the system's expansion, he also gained attention for his salary. The system's IRS filings show that Gardner was paid a salary of $821,619 plus benefits and deferred compensation of $457,768 in the 2008 fiscal year, according to the organization's most recent filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

Holly Lang, who examines hospital operations for Georgia Watch, a statewide consumer organization, said Gardner's salary raised questions when she studied Northeast Georgia's finances. "That is a lot of money to pay one individual in an area [of Georgia] that is not known for great wealth," she said. But she commended Gardner for the hospital's dedication to community services and financial assistance.