One week after Weems Memorial Hospital CEO HD Cannington told the hospital board of directors he planned to step down, county commissioners have turned to Apalachicola pastor David Walker to serve as interim head of the hospital.

By unanimous vote Tuesday morning at a special meeting, county commissioners agreed to a three-month deal with Walker, 54, a member of the hospital board of directors and former operations manager at the county health department.

In approving the motion made by Commissioner William Massey and seconded by Bert Boldt, the commissioners agreed to a pay package for Walker, negotiated by County Coordinator Michael Morón, of $10,417 per month. He said the county could extend the agreement for three additional months, on a month-to-month basis.

“What Pastor Walker may lack in hospital administrative experience, he makes up for in health department and other similar health program management,” Morón told commissioners. ”This should allow the county and the Weems board of directors sufficient time to determine how to move forward with the management of the hospital and the county’s health care system. I am working on creating a support network, hopefully that will include Tallahassee Memorial, to assist Pastor Walker in his day to day management of Weems.”

After hearing a recommendation from Weems Board Chair Doug Creamer, the commissioners made the hiring immediate, with Walker planning to work with Cannington up through Sept. 7, the day the former CEO’s resignation will be effective.

“Thank God for him, David will do well,” said Creamer. “I’m excited for the future of Weems.”

Morón said his recommendation came about after talks with Creamer, Cannington and Jim Coleman, president and CEO of Alliant Management Services, who has served as a consultant to Weems.

“We got to get somebody in there,” said Chairman Noah Lockley. “He got an impressive resume.”

Morón said as he pondered his recommendation, he thought that much of the critical access hospital expertise could be handled by the chief financial officer.

“We have brought in CEOs with vast experiences here to the county to manage the hospital,” he said. “And the board has expressed in the past displeasure, with signing bonuses, moving fees, housing expenses.

“That helped me change my focus,” Morón said. “Let’s see who locally would be able to manage the hospital day to day. The critical access hospital experience needs to be more with the chief financial officer. You don’t necessarily need critical access hospital experience to be CEO.”

Boldt urged his colleagues to draw up a list of guidelines for Walker, “to ensure in plain English where we know where the money is going in that hospital, and there’s no question about it. To make sure we are giving this a man a full recipe on how to proceed. I’m happy we now have breathing room.

“We were surprised our money market account was used and we didn’t know about it,” he said.

Walker told commissioners he was up to the challenge. “Yes, I’m willing. With God all things are possible,” he said.

As a member of the Weems board, Walker will now have to step down, with Lockley responsible for recommending his replacement.

“Health care is our responsibility in our county,” he said after the meeting. “Our vision is to bring health care with excellence.”

After also accepting Cannington’s recommendation, commissioners also unanimously approved moving forward with a pre-application to take advantage of access to US Department of Agriculture grant funds, that will give priority to counties affected by Hurricane Michael, to buy two new ambulances.

If approved, this grant would pay for 75 percent of the two ambulances’ cost, which run about $220,000 each. The county’s match would be $55,000 for each unit, with that money coming out of the health care trust fund, funded by the 1-cent sales tax.

“Submitting this pre-application does not commit the county to the grant or the match, only a determination of eligibility and a place on the list for funding,” Morón said.