Sunday, May 26, 2024

State hospital group CEO Lawler to retire next year

North Carolina Healthcare Association CEO Stephen Lawler will retire when his contract expires on Dec. 31, 2024, the group announced Monday.

The veteran hospital executive has been the association’s leader since July 2017. He’s only the fourth professional CEO in the group’s history.

North Carolina Healthcare Association CEO Stephen Lawler

A search committee is being formed to hire Lawler’s successor through a national search. He will remain CEO until the job is filled.

“It has been and continues to be the privilege of a lifetime to serve as CEO of the healthcare association and support the amazing people who provide such outstanding care to North Carolina residents and communities,” Lawler said in a release.

The healthcare association represents hospital systems and ranks among the state’s most influential nonprofit groups. It had annual revenue of about $5 million in 2021, while Lawler’s annual compensation totaled about $1 million that year, according to its most recent tax filing. Lawler’s predecessor, Bill Pully, led the group from 1999 to 2016.

A key part of Lawler’s work throughout his tenure has been advocating for Medicaid expansion, which was approved last week by the N.C. General Assembly. It will go into effect on Dec. 1, expanding the insurance program for about 600,000 low-income residents, Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday.

Lawler also championed the Healthcare Access and Stabilization Program passed by lawmakers this year. It is intended to help stabilize rural hospitals that are struggling to compete against larger regional rivals and improve provider participation in North Carolina’s Medicaid program.

During his tenure, Lawler implemented a new system of management that facilitated a financial and operations turnaround at the association, according to the release. NCHA was named by Modern Healthcare magazine to its “Best Places to Work in Healthcare” national rankings in 2020, 2022 and 2023.

“Steve has spent a distinguished career serving the healthcare field in North Carolina and beyond with experiences ranging from military healthcare to shaping the North Carolina healthcare landscape,” said Chuck Mantooth, chair of the NCHA board of trustees and CEO of UNC Health, Appalachian in Boone. “His character is exemplified by integrity and commitment to fairness and fair play.”

A native of North Carolina, Lawler has a bachelor’s degree from The Citadel and an MBA from Georgia Southern University. He is a retired Army Medical Service Corps officer who has led hospitals and health systems in rural and urban communities.

He was president of Greenville’s Vidant Medical Center (now ECU Health) from 2007-14, then worked for Carolinas Healthcare System (now Atrium Health) for about two years before joining the association.

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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