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Jones to retire from WV United Health System

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J. Thomas Jones figured after 46 years in the health care industry that it was time to relax a little.

He announced Jan. 28 that he will retire from his post as CEO of West Virginia United Health System, the state's largest hospital system, at the end of this year.

"When I retire I'll be 64 years old. I've been working in health care every year since 1967, right out of high school. I thought it was time to quit. Every expectation I've had for a career I've exceeded," Jones said in a telephone interview.

Jones is the second person to hold the CEO post since WVUHS was formed in 1996. When he came to the group in 2002, it consisted of two hospitals: West Virginia University's Ruby Memorial in Morgantown and the original United Hospital Center in Clarksburg. Since then, it has expanded to include City Hospital in Martinsburg, Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Ranson (now operated together as WVU Hospitals-East) and Camden Clark Medical Center on two hospital campuses in Parkersburg. The system also includes United Physicians Care and the Health Partners Network.

During Jones' tenure at WVUHS, United Hospital Center planned and completed a new $300 million hospital along Interstate 79 at Bridgeport, and Ruby Memorial Hospital was substantially enlarged. For several years, WVUHS has been listed as West Virginia's second-largest private employer.

In a news release, Jim Clements, president of West Virginia University and chairman of the United Health System board, said, "Tom Jones has done an excellent job helping West Virginia University fulfill its mission in health care for our state. He has been a champion for how our teaching, research and service missions help to advance health care within our state and the region. Tom has helped WVUHS grow into the largest health care system in the state by promoting quality and by being a strong advocate for the patients that our hospitals and clinics serve."

In the interview, Jones said announcing his retirement now gives the board time to find a replacement. Jones said he plans to will relax some and slow down next year, but he will also stay active in the community.

Looking ahead at the industry he leaves behind, Jones said some health care institutions in West Virginia will do well and some will do okay, but some will not do so well. It will depend on the strength of the institution itself and its leadership, he said. Some will struggle to deal with changes brought on by health care reform and cuts in reimbursements, Jones said.

"One of the things that I've been saying to people is one of the challenges is lack of vision. People think life will go on as it goes on," Jones said.

United Health System should do well, considering it is coming off the best two years in its history, Jones said.

"I walk away knowing that it's strong and the next person can take it to the next level," Jones said.

United Health System and other health care organizations in West Virginia have grown through consolidations, and consolidations are likely to continue, Jones said.

The future of hospitals will lie in outpatient services, Jones said.

"I think you'll see a number of hospitals convert to ambulatory care facilities," he said.

So the next level for United Health System is more expansion, building at least one new ambulatory care facility in North Central West Virginia and moving into the new bed tower at Ruby Memorial, Jones said.

Jones is a native of Glen Dale in the Marshall County. He holds an undergraduate degree in business administration from WVU and a master's degree in hospital administration from the University of Minnesota.

His first job out of high school was working in a hospital food service department. He began his health care management career in 1973 as an assistant administrator at Wheeling Hospital, rising to the post of chief operating officer. In 1990 he became CEO of St. Mary's Medical Center in Huntington. In 2000 he was chosen to lead Genesis Hospital System, which included St. Mary's, Cabell Huntington and Pleasant Valley hospitals. 

Jones is active in the state's business community. He was honored in 2012 by the WVU College of Business and Economics as one of three inductees into the West Virginia Business Hall of Fame. He is the chair of the board of directors of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce. He also serves on the boards of Arch Coal and Premier Inc. He has served on the boards of the American Hospital Association, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and several other local, state, and national groups.