WALLINGFORD — Gaylord Hospital has a new chief executive officer, and for the first time in the hospital’s 117-year history, the position is filled by a woman.
Sonja LaBarbera, formerly Gaylord’s chief operating officer, became CEO and president after George Kyriacou’s retired at the end of 2018.
LaBarbera said Monday that the board won’t appoint a replacement COO.
Instead, Gaylord added a new position, vice president of clinical operations, which was filled internally by Peter Grevelding. Other former COO responsibilities went to Lisa Kalafu, chief nursing officer and Art Tedesco, chief financial officer.
LaBarbera said to fill the CEO position, the board of directors explored internal and external candidates.
Typically, she said, the board has chosen an external candidate. LaBarbera, however, has risen through the ranks, starting 14 years ago as director of inpatient therapy.
“I’ve held many positions since then,” she said. “It has given me great perspective as someone with a clinical focus on patient needs. The employees also rallied around an internal candidate.”
LaBarbera’s educational background is as a speech language pathologist, clinician and therapist, and she has a master’s degree in organizational leadership form Quinnipiac University. She recently moved to Wallingford.
She wants to maintain Gaylord’s cornerstone physical rehabilitation programs in the Wallingford long-term acute care hospital and outpatient facilities in Wallingford, Cheshire and North Haven, while looking to grow the health care system.
“We need to stop being the best-kept secret in Wallingford,” she said, “and draw from a larger geographical region to let more people take advantage of our unique services.”
Kyriacou said that LaBarbera is a leader for the future, a trait he called “increasingly important and rare in a health care system that’s in constant flux.”
“Not only is she full of energy,” he said in a statement, “but she’s bursting with ideas and has the rare ability to make things happen quickly and effectively.”
Robert Lyons, chairman of Gaylord’s board of directors, agreed that identifying leaders who can plan for the future while balancing costs and patients’ needs is important.
“(LaBarbera) epitomizes someone who can take Gaylord from where it is today to where it needs to be tomorrow,” he said in a statement.
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