Raleigh, N.C. — WakeMed Health & Hospitals announced Thursday that President and CEO Bill Atkinson has agreed to step down, citing "differences in the future direction of the organization."
Atkinson, who has been CEO since 2003, met with board leaders Wednesday night and agreed to leave before Oct. 1, the start of the hospital's new fiscal year. He was gone by Thursday.
"The WakeMed Board of Directors and Dr. Atkinson agree that the separation is in the best interest of both parties," WakeMed leaders said in a statement.
An interim CEO has not been named. Hospital leaders say they plan to conduct a national search for Atkinson's replacement.
His departure comes days before a key part of the Affordable Care Act is set to take effect. Sources familiar with the board's vote say factors that played a role in its decision include a federal investigation into fraudulent Medicaid billing practices, growing financial losses and a perceived inability to effectively communicate and listen.
In a statement, WakeMed board Chairman William McBride thanked Atkinson "for his years of tenure and leadership."
"As we move into the next phase of health care reform and the continued growth of this community and region, there are going to be new challenges and opportunities for WakeMed," McBride added. "The Board of Directors looks forward to welcoming a new leader to successfully guide us through this new era of health care."
Under Atkinson's leadership, WakeMed was the largest provider of indigent care in the area. He also oversaw about 8,500 employees.
Described by those who know him well as driven, outspoken, an ideas man and someone who strives for excellence, Atkinson was also known for having a strong personality.
Billie Redmond chaired the WakeMed board from 2009 to 2011 and was on the board that hired Atkinson as CEO in 2003. Since Atkinson began, the hospital has seen tremendous growth for the brand and system.
"I believe Dr. Atkinson delivered on that very well," Redmond said. "(The current board is) looking at the next generation of health care, and so, perhaps what they're looking for is a different set of strengths."