The chief information officer for Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is stepping down, effective May 31, the center confirmed Friday.

Sheila Sanders has served in that role, as well as vice president of information technology, since being hired in 2009 to direct the center’s overhaul of its IT system.

She is leaving at a time when the center is struggling financially and operationally with implementing the Epic electronic health records system — one of the largest overall projects Wake Forest Baptist and most health care systems have undertaken in recent years.

Dr. John McConnell, the center’s chief executive, said in a statement that Sanders decided in January to take “a brief career break” after completing major portions of the overhaul. He said Sanders is relocating to Florida to spend more time with her family.

Wake Forest Baptist spokesman Chad Campbell stressed it was Sanders’ decision to leave her positions, and it was not related to Epic, which went live in September on the center’s main campus.

Sanders was paid $333,961 in salary, $89,145 in bonus and incentive compensation and $464,543 in total compensation in 2011, according to a regulatory filing that Wake Forest Baptist made public Wednesday. The center’s executive-compensation data typically is about 18 months old when released.

In terms of salary, Sanders ranked sixth among the center’s 27 listed management officials. Two of the officials with higher pay, Donny Lambeth and Doug Edgeton, no longer work for the center.

The center said Sanders’ duties included clinical information, administrative, business, academic and research support systems, as well as core IT functions that include a central IT help desk, email, computer desktop support, IT security and telecommunications.

“We are deeply grateful to Sheila for her numerous contributions that will serve the medical center for years to come,” McConnell said. McConnell said senior IT officials will manage day-to-day IT operations with his oversight while the center conducts a national search for her replacement.

The center said May 2 it had launched another round of “multi-million dollar” cost-cutting measures that will last through at least June 30, the end of its 2012-13 fiscal year, related to fixing Epic revenue issues.

The measures include attempts at volunteer employee furloughs and hour-and-wage reductions, a hiring freeze, a reduction in employer retirement contributions, and elimination of executive incentive bonuses for 2013.

The center said it “will not meet projected financial targets for the current fiscal year.”

Neither McConnell's May 1 memo to employees nor the statement mentioned job cuts as a cost-cutting option.

However, the previous expense-reduction effort in 2012 included the elimination of 950 job positions, including those of 475 active employees, which began in November and is projected to last through June 30.

The cost-cutting steps were not unexpected based on what the center said in April in a financial report submitted to bond agencies.

It reported a $49.6 million operational loss and a gain of $7.4 million in overall excess revenue in its second quarter of fiscal 2012-13, which ended Dec. 31. Stock investments offset the operational revenue loss.

Wake Forest Baptist said it had spent about $13.3 million directly on the Epic system through Dec. 31. Many health care systems in the Carolinas, including Novant Health Inc. and Cone Health, chose the Epic system to handle their electronic records.

Cone and Wake Forest Baptist attribute some of their operating loss in their current fiscal year to projected revenue that has been delayed related to problems rolling out their version of Epic, particularly with billing, procedure coding and collections.

Wake Forest Baptist cited $8 million in “other Epic-related implementation expense” that it listed among “business-cycle disruptions (that) have had a greater-than-anticipated impact on volumes and productivity.” Also listed was $26.6 million in lost margin “due to interim volume disruptions during initial go-live and post go-live optimization.”

Sanders is the fourth top-level executive at Wake Forest Baptist to resign or accept a smaller role since McConnell officially took over in November 2008.

The others were: Dr. William Applegate, president of the health-sciences unit and dean of its medical school; Lambeth as president of N.C. Baptist Hospital; and Edgeton as president of the recently renamed Wake Forest Innovation Quarter.

McConnell’s main initial role has been stitching together N.C. Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, including the medical school, into a cohesive structure. He has said each departure decision was made on its own merits by the officials and is "a non issue."

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