LRGHealthcare CEO retires – Clairmont was with organization for 43 years

LACONIA — After 43 years with LRGHealthcare, the last quarter century as its president and chief executive officer, Tom Clairmont is retiring.

The Board of Trustees, announced Clairmont's retirement in a formal statement issued Thursday evening.

"Tom Clairmont has provided decades of critical leadership and service to LRGHealthcare and his tenure will be looked back upon as one of innovation and fiscal responsibility," said Scott Clarenbach, chairman of the board. "Tom has played a vital role in our evolution into the leading healthcare provider for the Lakes Region."

Clarenbach said yesterday that the trustees are scheduled to announce the appointment of an interim president on  Monday, Aug.4. The board, he explained, has begun a strategic planning process which, once complete, will indicate the qualities and skills expected of a permanent successor. At that point -- which he suggested would not be anytime soon -- the board will mount a search. "We are taking this very seriously," he stressed, "but we are also looking for the person with the right qualities."

The Sun attempted to reach Clairmont for this story, but the calls were not immediately returned yesterday.

Born and raised in Belmont, where he volunteered with the Fire Department while in high school, Clairmont joined the financial department of Lakes Region General Hospital in 1971 as an accountant. While working his way to become comptroller and director of fiscal services he earned his bachelor's degree at St. Michael's College in Winooski, Vt., and his master's degree in business administration, with a speciality in healthcare management, at Boston College. When Belmont lost its contracted ambulance service in the 1970s, Clairmont not only arranged for the town to acquire and equip an ambulance, but also was among those responding to the first medical emergencies.

After serving in senior operational and financial positions Clairmont was named president and chief and executive officer of Lakes Region General Hospital in March 1989. His tenure began with a period of growth that positioned what became LRGHealthcare as the hub of a network of hospitals, clinics and services providing medical care to the residents of more than two municipalities in the three counties of Lakes and Three Rivers regions.

Clarenbach described Clairmont as "a very innovative leader," with a strong belief in a collaborative approach to providing medical services and a strong commitment to ensuring widespread access to healthcare. Apart from the hospital, Clairmont spawned satellites offering fitness programs and day care for elders along with a dental resource center and holistic health center. There was a program to assist patients with the cost of prescription medications.

The hospital entered an arrangement with the city of Laconia to share the costs of of staffing and equipping the Fire Department ambulance service. The growth that occurred under Clairmont's tenure was crowned by the merger of Lakes Region General Hospital and Franklin Regional Hospital and the christening of LRGHealthcare in 2000.

By then the pressures weighing on the not-for-profit corporation had begun to appear. Orthopedic Professional Association (OPA), a medical practice which moved to in Gilford, sought to open its own ambulatory surgical center. LRGH resisted, and in a settlement with OPA LRGH became the operator of ambulatory surgical facility. Today Advanced Orthopaedic Specialists is among LRGH's affiliated services.

However, Clarenbach said that the trend has persisted, as alternative providers of lab work, and imaging services along with walk-in clinics have proliferated.

Meanwhile, with a disproportionate share of Medicaid patients, LRGH began feeling the squeeze between its rising costs of providing care and the low reimbursement rates it received from the state. In 2004 and 2005, under Clairmont's leadership, the corporation began shrinking or shedding some of its costly satellite programs and services, turned to investing in its core facilities, and engaging in the politics of healthcare. Clarenbach credited with Clairmont with steering LRGHealthcare through "a rapidly changing and very challenging healthcare environment on a shoestring."

Construction of the new Inter-Lakes Medical Center in Meredith began in 2009, and in 2011 a new 97,000-square foot addition to Lakes Region General Hospital was opened, and sections of Franklin Regional Hospital were renovated. LRGHealthcare countered the appearance of walk-in clinics with one of its own, Convenience Care, and introduced specialties of its own, like MAKOplasty knee and hip surgery and the Weight Institute of New Hampshire. Last year Franklin Regional Hospital added a psychiatric department.

Clairmont was among the chief architects of the Granite Healthcare Network, a partnership of five hospitals with 1,000 physicians and 9,000 employees serving 500,000 people in 50 municipalities in New Hampshire. Formed in 2010, the network created an insurance exchange to reduce the cost of malpractice insurance. Since then the partners have pursued joint purchasing of laboratory services and information technology priced beyond the means of individual members. Clarenbach said that the network offers a means to significantly reduce costs while improving the quality of care.

When former Gov. John Lynch sought to transfer the surplus accumulated by a medical malpractice insurance fund to the state general fund, LRGHealthcare, as the largest single premium payer, challenged the state in court and ultimately prevailed, recovering $3.5-million. Likewise, more recently LRGHealthcare joined with all but one of the state's largest hospitals in suing the state over its calculation and distribution of Medicaid payments.

As a young man, Clairmont joined a hospital, which he transformed into a comprehensive healthcare facility consisting of two hospitals, with 157 beds between them, along with 22 affiliated medical programs and services. He also found time to share his energy and talent with the Caring Community Network of the Twin Rivers, Community Health and Hospice, Rural Health Coalition of New Hampshire, the Taylor Community, and Bank of New Hampshire.