Big Changes at Willis-Knighton
Jerry A. “Jaf” Fielder II named to top post with WK Health System
Willis-Knighton Health System has announced that James K. Elrod, president and chief executive officer, plans to retire effective Sept. 30. The board of directors has unanimously elected Jerry A. Fielder II (Jaf) to succeed Elrod as president and CEO. With a tenure of over 30 years, Fielder currently serves as a senior member of Willis- Knighton’s executive leadership team.
“On behalf of the Board of Trustees, the medical staff, the management team and Willis-Knighton’s over 7,000 employees, we want to thank Mr. Elrod for his unparalleled contributions and indelible impact during his more than five decades at the helm of this organization,” said Board Chairman Frank Hughes, M.D., “Under his leadership, Mr. Elrod has grown Willis-Knighton from a small community hospital to one of the largest health-care systems in Louisiana. We are fortunate that he will be president emeritus and remain on the board of trustees so as to ensure a seamless changing of the guard.”
With an unwavering vision toward the future, Mr. Elrod led the expansion of the original 60-bed hospital into a fully integrated care network consisting of four acute care hospitals and a rehabilitation institute, an extensive multispecialty physician network, and the state’s largest retirement community, The Oaks of Louisiana. Mr. Elrod created the characteristic that distinguished Willis- Knighton most, which is a commitment to innovation.
During Elrod’s tenure, a few of the many “firsts’’ at Willis-Knighton include organ transplants, minimally invasive cardiac surgery, innovative eye surgery technology and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Willis-Knighton also was the first in the state to offer proton therapy for cancer treatment. Numerous organizations have recognized Elrod for his ongoing commitment and dedication to the community, which led a regional newspaper to name him one of the most influential people in North Louisiana in the last century.
Mr. Elrod earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Baylor University. Upon fulfilling his military commitment in the United States Air Force, he attended Washington University School of Medicine, where he earned a master’s degree in hospital administration. Beginning his distinguished career at Willis-Knighton at the age of 27, he is the longest-tenured hospital administrator in the United States, serving 56 years.
“Working with Jaf during the past 30 years of his career here, I have not just seen him grow and demonstrate his capabilities, I have seen his heart. His dedication to the health system, the medical staff, the employees and our community is unquestionable and, I believe, unshakable. He will have the support of a strong executive team, just as I have had, and they have a solid foundation on which to build,” said Jim Elrod. “I look to this wisdom of John F. Kennedy who noted: ‘Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.’” Mr. Fielder’s selection comes after a robust, multi-year succession planning process led by the board of trustees. “After a thorough search and a slate of top candidates, the board concluded that there was no one better qualified than our own Jaf Fielder,” stated Dr. Hughes. “During the interview process, it became clear that Jaf is unanimously viewed by physicians and staff alike as a trusted colleague and dedicated leader within the Willis-Knighton Health System. With Mr. Fielder’s extensive health-care experience, strong track record and commitment to operational excellence, we are confident that he is the right choice to carry on our proud legacy of health-care delivery in North Louisiana.”
Mr. Fielder joined Willis Knighton in 1990 and built his career under the guidance and mentorship of Mr. Elrod. He has held multiple senior roles across the organization, starting with human resources, progressing to be the administrator of Willis-Knighton’s flagship hospital, and eventually becoming the CAO with management oversight of all Willis- Knighton hospitals. During his tenure, he has played a significant role in the expansion of the Willis-Knighton Health System. Most recently, Mr. Fielder has provided critical executive leadership in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in coordination with the health-care team and front-line employees.
Fielder holds a Bachelor of Science in business management and a Master of Business Administration from Abilene Christian University. He has a Bachelor of Science in accounting from LSU in Shreveport. A 0native of Shreveport, Mr. Fielder is married to his wife of 30 years, Shelly, and they have three daughters, Jordan, 23, Jenna, 21, and Jamie, 19.