New Merit Natchez CEO focuses on recruiting, retention and ‘remarkable’ staff

Published 12:35 pm Wednesday, November 8, 2023

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NATCHEZ – Recruiting and retention. Those are the top two priorities for Kevin Samrow as CEO of Merit Health Natchez.

Samrow, a veteran health care administrator with a history of recruiting success, started in Natchez on July 31. But he knew well before his first day on the job what his priorities would be.

“When I was interviewing here, that’s what the medical staff told me … that we need to recruit and retain,” he said. “Nurses, med techs, doctors, specialists … and so that’s been our goal, my goal.”

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Prior to coming to Natchez, Samrow spent nearly four years in Oklahoma, working with Alliance Health Durant and Alliance Health Medill. He shepherded those systems through the COVID pandemic and built a strong reputation for recruitment, bringing in 12 new medical providers to the community, in both primary care and specialties. He also worked with the hospital’s family medicine residency program to train and recruit physicians for the future.

He hopes to bring that success to Natchez, where Mayor Dan Gibson has proposed a MedNatchez campaign to develop a regional medical hub in the community.

“Before I even started, the mayor (of Natchez) and I were already communicating about … needs for the community,” Samrow said. “We’ve met several times since then and I will be at the table … once it finally gets kicked off. “

The unique aspect of the MedNatchez proposal, Samrow said, is that it incorporates the wider community in recruitment efforts. “Physicians want to go to a community where they know they’re going to be supported, and that they know they can come there and be successful,” he said. “So if you have a campaign like MedNatchez, where the whole community in the city is behind the economic development as relates to medical care, then that’s a selling point.”

Samrow also said physician recruitment is a long game. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve talked to one primary care doctor who’s from this general area, and he’s a 2026 candidate,” Samrow said. “I talked to potential recruits who are looking to come here in 90 or 180 days, but I’m also taking to some doctors that are not going to graduate until 2026. And so you’ve got to play the long game and the short game in recruitment.”

As he meets with local doctors, Samrow said he is also developing a sense of who will be retiring in upcoming years and what needs the community will have for physicians. “I already know we don’t have enough primary care in the market now,” he said, adding that the shortage of primary care physicians is a national challenge. “We have added two nurse practitioners and an internal medicine doctor (this year).”

And while recruiting and retention are critical needs, Samrow said they are not the only focus in his first six months on the job. Process improvements – work that will ultimately improve patient experiences – is an ongoing focus that benefits from the attitudes and enthusiasm of the physicians and staff.

“Coming into a situation like this, where we want to make some changes and process improvements, people will sometimes have a tendency to maybe be a little resistant to change and that’s not true at all here,” he said. “It’s actually remarkable, in my opinion, how the leaders here are like ‘let’s move, let’s go, let’s put these measures in place or the plans in place …’

“When I first got here, I’d go home and tell (my family) this might be the coolest job I’m ever going to have. We recognize we have some opportunities, but nobody wants to resist changes … and it’s so awesome.”

Merit Health Natchez employs more than 400 people, and Samrow said the employees are the starting point for all the hospital’s successes. “If you have good, high morale on your staff; you have enough staff to do the job; and you have the tools you need to do the job, then everything falls into place. So, I truly believe that everything starts with staff … It doesn’t matter what your role and responsibility is in an organization, in a health care system – if you have good employee engagement, good happy staff, then all the other measures that we care about are going to come to fruition.”

Samrow is a U.S. Army veteran who served six years at Army hospitals in Alabama, Louisiana, Washington D.C. and Hawaii. After completing his military service, he applied his clinical training in radiologic technology and nuclear medicine at hospitals in Louisiana and subsequently advanced into leadership and executive positions. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of New Orleans and his master’s in business administration from New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire. He worked with Merit Health system as CEO at Merit Health River Region in Vicksburg before moving to Oklahoma.

And for Samrow and his family, the Natchez job gives them the opportunity to “come home.” He grew up in Slidell, La., and his family has been hunting in Ferriday, La., for more than 30 years. His wife, Rebecca, is from St. Francisville, La. Their youngest daughter, Ella, is a student at Cathedral School. “I’ve seen my brother more in the first six weeks I’ve been here than I had for the previous four years,” Samrow said. “Rebecca and I feel like we’ve finally found our place.”