NCHA CEO Stephen Lawler to Retire at the End of 2024

Raleigh, NC – September 25, 2023 – North Carolina Healthcare Association (NCHA) President and Chief Executive Officer Stephen J. Lawler has announced that he will retire when his current contract expires, effective December 31, 2024. Lawler, 63, is the fourth professional chief executive in the association’s 105-year history of serving North Carolina’s hospitals and health systems. Hired for the position in July 2017, he will close his career after serving more than three decades in North Carolina healthcare. The Board of Trustees has formed a search committee to lead a national recruitment effort for the new chief executive and Lawler will continue to serve as CEO until the position has been 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. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity NCHA has given me and for all the people I’ve been fortunate to work with over the years. I plan to be fully engaged in day-to-day leadership and our strategic efforts to address the challenging environment in healthcare today until my successor is on board,” Lawler said.

During his tenure with NCHA, Lawler worked closely with the association’s members to advocate for Medicaid expansion in North Carolina. The landmark legislation passed earlier this year by the North Carolina General Assembly will have lasting benefits for the state. Lawler and NCHA also championed the Healthcare Access and Stabilization Program (HASP) that was included in the legislation. The program allows hospitals to help fund expansion and will help to stabilize rural hospitals that are essential to the health and economic wellbeing of their communities. It will also improve provider participation in North Carolina’s Medicaid program, strengthening network adequacy and access to care.

Under Lawler’s leadership, the association was also a vital advocate and resource for its members to obtain needed information, funding, legislative support, supplies and services to meet the needs of patients and communities during the historic, three-year COVID-19 pandemic.

Among his other accomplishments with NCHA, Lawler developed and implemented a new system of management for the association that facilitated a financial and operations turnaround. Employee engagement increased to a level where, based on annual survey results, NCHA was named by Modern Healthcare to its “Best Places to Work in Healthcare” national rankings in 2020, 2022 and 2023.

In addition, under Lawler the NCHA Strategic Partners subsidiary has grown to be a leading resource that healthcare providers can turn to for access to supplies and services from vetted business partners, helping members and non-members alike to achieve operational efficiencies and cost savings.

He also oversaw significant growth in the North Carolina Healthcare Foundation (NCHF), the charitable nonprofit arm of the association. Through innovative programming, the Foundation creates opportunities for healthcare solutions that can be shared and scaled across the state. For example, NCHA and NCHF have collaborated with the South Carolina Hospital Association and The Duke Endowment to launch CaroNova, an incubator connecting key people and organizations in North Carolina and South Carolina with promising innovations to create a better system of health care.

Under Lawler, NCHA and NCHF have prioritized diversity, equity and inclusion for staff and members. He was instrumental in developing a healthcare leadership diversity mentorship program in North Carolina, now in its fourth year, that focuses on mentoring and sponsorship for up-and-coming leaders from underrepresented groups. Additionally, noting the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 in people of color during the pandemic, the association in 2023 launched a member-driven initiative to achieve equity of care in clinical settings across the state.

“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. His character is exemplified by integrity and commitment to fairness and fair play. He has been able to reach beyond the competitive moment to build collaborative relationships that advance all,” said Chuck Mantooth, chair of the NCHA Board of Trustees and president and CEO of UNC Health, Appalachian.

“Steve’s deep commitment to our association and the approach he takes as a servant leader have been inspiring to me, leaving the organization in a better place for decades into the future,” added Chris Peek, chair-elect of the NCHA Board of Trustees and CEO of CaroMont Health.

A native of North Carolina, Lawler received his bachelor’s degree from The Citadel and an M.B.A. from Georgia Southern University. He is a retired Army Medical Service Corps Officer with positions ranging from several command and staff assignments to a tour with the Army Surgeon General. With positions that have taken him from Murphy to Manteo, Mr. Lawler has led hospitals and health systems in rural and urban communities. He was the president of one of the smallest hospitals in North Carolina (a national rural health system model) and also led one of the largest health systems in the state. Lawler is also active at the local, state and national scene, serving on a variety of boards and committees. He has served as an adjunct faculty member at East Carolina University and a guest lecturer at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, Duke University, and the Medical University of South Carolina.

Founded in 1918, North Carolina Healthcare Association (NCHA) is the united voice of the North Carolina healthcare community. Representing more than 130 hospitals, health systems, physician groups and other healthcare organizations, NCHA works with our members to improve the health of North Carolina communities by advocating for sound public policies and collaborative partnerships and by providing insights, services, support, and education to expand access to high quality, efficient, affordable, and integrated health care for all North Carolinians.  

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