Ed Epperson retiring as Carson Tahoe Health CEO at year’s end
Ed Epperson took Carson Tahoe Health from a facility of fewer than 100 beds that offered limited services and where the quality of care was questioned even by some of its staff to a full-service medical center with 240 beds and a reputation for high-quality care.
Now, after just shy of 25 years, most of it as CEO, he’s getting ready to retire.
It was the need to expand and improve CTH along with his predecessor, Steve Smith’s decision to retire, that resulted in Epperson’s appointment in July 2001.
He said the community made it clear they wanted a cancer center, cardio-vascular surgery and other services from their hospital. And the facility needed to expand because the number of patients had outgrown the old campus.
Epperson pretty much went to work immediately on the major issues the then-city-owned hospital had to overcome.
First was whether to expand the old campus on Fleischmann Way or look for a new location. He said the hospital developed a plan for the existing property but that, it would require adding several buildings including two four-story parking garages. Overall, he said the plan would have cost something like $85 million, “and be a ridiculous campus.”
He said a new campus was clearly the best option and the old hospital has since become the acute long-term care center.
The second and biggest issue was how to pay for a new hospital.
“The city wanted no part of any debt we were going to raise,” he said. “So we said fine, we’ll do it ourselves. Let us go private.”
Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors did just that and Carson Tahoe became a private nonprofit hospital. With $45 million in bonds and a $50 million letter of credit from U.S. Bank, CTH built the new and much larger hospital at the north end of Carson City and opened for business in 2005.
The master plan drafted 16 years ago got Carson Tahoe to where it is today. The hospital offers a full range of medical services, inpatient and outpatient. It offers long-term acute care, emergency room services and even high-tech robotic surgery.
“I truly believe that if you’re really sick, come here,” Epperson said.
He said, however, it’s time to update that plan and further expand. And he said it’s time for him to phase himself out of the picture.
“I want to spend a lot more of my life doing other things,” he said. “There’s a sacrifice that comes with this job. A lot of Saturday mornings and evenings.”
Now 66, he said he and his wife have built a house on the island of Molokai where he wants to learn how to fly fish in the ocean and paddle an outrigger canoe. He said he grew up on a farm near Fresno with parents who grew peaches and plums and made raisins out of grapes.
On an acre lot in Hawaii, he said he wants to get back into growing things.
But with decades-long ties in western Nevada and family still here, Epperson said they’ll be back frequently.
It won’t be “like an off switch” when he leaves at the end of the year. He said the search for his successor is already under way and that the new CEO should be on-board in September, giving him time to help with the transition before he leaves.
That includes finalizing plans for the expansion of Carson Tahoe.
During the next five years, he said CTH will expand the main building, add beds at the adjacent Sierra Building and connect the two. He said the emergency department will expand and there will be added parking. Facilities in Dayton will expand and they are already expanding in Minden.
Epperson said they went out for bonds at the end of the year to refinance existing debt and fund the master plan improvements — a total of just over $100 million. He said because of their management and financial history, those bonds sold out the first day.
“To see the market treat us like that was really impressive because we’re not big,” he said. “We’re a local system.”
Prudent management, he said, has kept Carson Tahoe in the black, generating enough money to give staff raises, buy equipment and grow as well as maintain a safety net, “in case Medicare stops paying their bills.” Net income was more than $20 million in both 2016 and 2017.
With 2,000 employees, Carson Tahoe is second only to state government and a huge boon to the capital’s economy since they spend nearly $1 million a day. Epperson said that is more than $300 million a year that, for the most part, stays in the community.
When the whole process started, he said they “had to kind of overcome a lot of obstacles from the city.”
“But that was then,” he said. “City leadership today is excellent. We have a great relationship with the city manager and mayor.”
He had praise as well for Garth Richards and for the Nevada State Children’s Home. Carson Tahoe’s current campus is on land acquired from Richards and the Children’s Home.
“Great partners, great neighbors,” he said.
He said major healthcare operators would like to get their hands on Carson Tahoe but that it won’t happen. He said joining a big system isn’t necessarily the answer.
“We are rock steady in our commitment to remain a community hospital,” he said. “We are committed to keeping control local.”