For the past dozen years, Len LaBella has led the administration at Verdugo Hills through the choppy seas of a changing healthcare business as the hospital’s chief executive.
Now, having guided the 158-bed hospital into an acquisition by Keck Hospital of USC, LaBella is moving on.
The 73-year-old LaBella, who has officially stepped down from the top role, will stay on a bit longer to help new Chief Executive Debbie Walsh transition into the job. But by the end of the year, LaBella will call it a career.
“It seemed like an appropriate time, with the hospital making a transition and completing the merger and affiliation with USC,” he said on Wednesday. “It’s a wonderful last chapter of doing this for about 42 years.
LaBella said he sees that merger, which was completed last month, as the biggest achievement of his tenure.
“There were many needs that were going to require a large infusion of capital and … that required us to find a strategic partner,” he said, noting the challenges facing independent hospitals in the wake of the federal Affordable Care Act. “For [the hospital’s board of directors] to support and get behind it, along with the medical staff and the trustees, is something I’m proud of.”
LaBella said the hospital’s biggest challenge in the near future is going to be providing better and more information to an increasingly discerning group of healthcare customers.
“We have to get ahead of that and be much more transparent,” he said. “Much like you do in any other business.... Be able to compare how we’re doing against our colleagues, against other institutions.”
LaBella isn’t staying still after retirement. The former University of Massachusetts quarterback is gearing up run the L.A. marathon with his son. And he said he’d like to travel to Eastern Europe and continue to work on his tennis and golf games.
In fact, it was at a golf game that LaBella, fresh off a 30-year stint working for Unihealth America, formerly the Lutheran Hospital Association, met former Verdugo Hills Hospital Chief Executive Bernie Glossy.
That meeting led to an interim stint as chief executive, but one year turned into 12, said LaBella.
“I thought this would be temporary.... I took it a year at a time,” he said.
LaBella, who grew up just outside Boston, got his healthcare degree from Trinity College in San Antonio while serving in the Air Force and has lived in the Pacific Palisades for the past 30 years, said he never expected to end up in Glendale, but he’s glad he did.
“I couldn’t have picked a better last chapter,” he said. “I think I saved my best job for the last.”