February 02, 2023
The Cookeville Regional Medical Center Board of Trustees unanimously appointed Chief Operating Officer Buffy Key to the interim chief executive officer position at its Thursday, February 23 meeting. The appointment was made following CEO Paul Korth’s retirement announcement earlier this month. Key will assume the role as of March 1 with Korth remaining in a consulting role through April 30.
With a career that has spanned more than 32 years of health care and hospital experience, Key started her health care career as a medical laboratory scientist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center while serving in the Army National Guard. With a bachelor’s degree in medical technology from East Tennessee State University and a master of management degree in health care from Vanderbilt University, she currently serves as the chief operating officer at CRMC. Beginning with her work in the military, she has had a wide range of health care experience. As a medical technologist, she previously worked in the laboratory at Johnson City Medical Center, CRMC and Vanderbilt. She also worked with the Bayer Corporation as a field service engineer in the diagnostics division and then returned to CRMC as the lab manager and then the lab director. Buffy left CRMC to return to Vanderbilt as the administrative director of operations-clinical laboratories.
Before becoming COO at CRMC in 2020, Key served the medical center as the senior vice-president for quality and operations. During that time, she was the recipient of the Tennessee Hospital Association’s 2016 Patient Safety Leadership Award, recognizing her for her dedication and extraordinary efforts to make patient safety and quality a top priority at CRMC.
“We are excited to move Buffy into the interim CEO position,” states Dr. Ernest Buchanan, chairman of the CRMC Board of Trustees. “With her prior experience here and at Vanderbilt, she has the background and leadership skills necessary to step into this role. She’s served both on the front line and in management, giving her a unique perspective to running a hospital. She is passionate about the patient experience and is continually motivating staff to improve processes for the betterment of patient care. She has demonstrated the operational expertise needed to be successful and move CRMC in the right direction. On behalf of the entire board, we are confident that we have made the right choice in promoting Buffy to this position.”
Key is a native of the Upper Cumberland and is originally from Jamestown, moving to Cookeville as a teenager.
“I look forward to serving as the interim CEO,” states Key. “I grew up in this area and have a vested interest and a passion for ensuring high quality health care for the people of this region. Our hospital is one of our area’s greatest assets along with the amazing staff and providers at our medical center. I’m excited to work with our city council, board of trustees, providers, staff, and the community as we move our medical center forward to what our community expects it to be and deserves for it to be.
“COVID presented many challenges, and the challenges have continued as we all recover from the pandemic that ravaged all hospitals, not just ours. CRMC is not alone in the challenges we face as a community hospital, but we have to get our focus back on the right things and make improvements where needed,” adds Key. “We all have to work together as a team, and I have no doubt that that will happen. We have such an incredible team of people here that care about the patients and the hospital.”
The medical center’s Board of Trustees will develop a plan to appoint a permanent CEO in the coming months.