Everard “Rod” O. Rutledge had retired after more than 35 years in health care. The senior executive had held positions at more than a half-dozen organizations in several states, his last in Charleston with the Bon Secours Health System.
Then, a new kind of opportunity knocked. Sea Island Comprehensive Health Care Corp., established in 1972 to provide local access to health care for residents of Edisto, James, Johns, Wadmalaw and Yonge’s islands, needed someone like him.
He was approached in 2009 by a former state lawmaker, the Rev. McKinley Washington, then chairman of Sea Island’s board of directors.
“Our director had left, and we asked the one who was there to resign,” Washington says. “I had the opportunity to know about Rod’s work, and Rod had the kind of expertise needed ... to get Sea Island Corporation on a strong footing.”
Would he become chief executive officer of the organization, whose offices are located on Maybank Highway on Johns Island?
“He did not want to come out of retirement,” Washington says. But Rutledge agreed to take the reins of the small operation for an unspecified, short period of time. Today, three years after Rutledge took the job, the organization has a strong footing, Washington says.
“It got to the point where I hated to see him leave,” Washington says of Rutledge, who retired in January.
When Rutledge became CEO, the corporation’s programs needed improvement, he says. And the organization generally needed to be run in a more professional manner.
Rutledge’s father, the late Oscar Rutledge, was raised in Charleston by the Fielding family, owners of Fielding Homes for Funerals. Everard Rutledge, who grew up in New York and has lived in Charleston for 15 years, is chairman of the funeral home’s board. His mother, Dorothy Rutledge, now lives in Charleston.
He describes himself as having been passionate about his job at Sea Island, which serves about 150 people, and its mission. He regrets that it was necessary to eliminate the organization’s child-care program because it was not financially viable, he says.
“You have to go in there every day believing in what you are doing,” Rutledge says.
One thing he’s glad to have done was to introduce the Home Health Services, which serves up to 60 people. Other Sea Island programs are Johns Island Rural Housing, an affordable program that has 88 units, and Adult Daycare Services, which provides a safe place for up to 20 seniors while family members work. The corporation still owns Senior Care Services, a nursing home, but does not operate it.
Before Rutledge took over, Sea Island had at times been late in paying salaries by more than a week, says Tony McGill, its chief financial officer. McGill says things quickly improved under Rutledge’s tenure.
“It made my job a whole lot easier because I did not have to go and find money,” to do the things that were needed, McGill says. Rutledge also brought in resources to improve the corporation’s bottom line.
He brought in a finance team from Roper-St. Francis that developed a plan leading to improved cash flow, McGill says. The organization had negative reserves when Rutledge arrived and a surplus of more than $200,000 when he left, McGill says.
“We had breathing room,” McGill says. “We were able to do things we were not able to do in a long time, such as ... replace our air-conditioning system. We also were able to renovate our Hollywood building, and we could charge more rent.”
Rutledge, he says, also used his connections with Roper-St. Francis to invite members of its health care staff to review Sea Island Comprehensive Health Care’s home health program to improve services.
The resources he brought helped to provide Sea Island’s staff with insights and different ways to look at things, McGill says. Not only did the bottom line and buildings improve, but morale among staff and volunteers increased tremendously, McGill says.
“They were really fired up about the organization once he came aboard,” McGill says.
‘Refocus our mission’
Sea Island has developed a strategic plan for new opportunities to serve its community, Rutledge says. It may develop new programs when 2014 provisions of the Affordable Health Care Act take effect, he says.
“The real issue is to make sure those in need get that care,” Rutledge says.
“The biggest thing is we need to change as the time changes,” McGill says. “We needed to refocus our mission.
“When this organization was established, there was not any health care on the island,” McGill says. “You had these drawbridges, and they would be up for hours. People would die waiting to get across the bridges. You don’t have those problems with transportation now.”
The organization, which has 45 employees, is more human services than direct primary care today, McGill says.
“I learned a lot. I look at him as a mentor. I can always go back to him for advice.
Rutledge says “You don’t do anything by yourself. I noticed the commitment and caring of those who work there and those who volunteer — they are great caring and loving people.
While he is reluctant to rate his performance, Rutledge gives himself an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Washington says, “Sea Island has a great history and has done a lot throughout the area, and hopefully the organization will continue to grow and flourish.
“I think we have a young lady who is able to hit the ground running,” he says, speaking of Tumiko Rucker, the new chief executive officer, who is also town administrator for Kiawah Island. “She is from the island, and we are looking for great things.”
Earlier versions of this story incorrectly described Tumiko Rucker’s position with Kiawah Island. The Post and Courier regrets the error.
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.