Interim CEO of Sparks Health System dismissed after ‘Hispanic’ comment

story by Michael Tilley

Officials with Community Health Systems, the parent company of Sparks Health System in Fort Smith, moved fast to remove interim CEO Tim Schmidt following a racially insensitive remark he made during an employee meeting.

On Tuesday, Schmidt was addressing a group of 100-150 hospital employees. During the question-and-answer portion, Schmidt was asked why he wanted to move from Laredo, Texas – a larger city with population of about 240,000 – to Fort Smith.

According to three sources who spoke to The City Wire, Schmidt responded: “Have you ever been to Laredo, Texas? It’s 97% Hispanic.” The sources said the comment soon made its way through the hospital, with Hispanic employees – to include at least one physician – expressing displeasure with the comment.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Laredo’s population was 95.6% Hispanic in 2010. The city is the third most populous city on the U.S.-Mexican border, trailing San Diego and El Paso.

“Laredo continues to be a community on the rise,” notes the Laredo Chamber of Commerce website. “With four bustling international bridges, three modern hospitals, a constantly-evolving university and an expanding system of infrastructure, Laredo and Webb County provide a safe and promising environment for families and entrepreneurs alike.”

Officials with Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health decided Thursday to announce that Schmidt would no longer be employed at Sparks. It is uncertain if he will remain employed by Community Health.

“Sparks Health System continues its search for a new CEO after the interim candidate for the position was taken out of consideration. The hospital continues to identify and evaluate qualified candidates,” noted a statement Sparks Health System sent The City Wire on Thursday (May 8). “Sparks is a vital community asset, a trusted healthcare provider and a major employer. We look forward to identifying the experienced, dynamic, community-minded leader who will build on strengths of our medical staff and dedicated employees and lead our health system to continued success.”

One of the three sources who spoke to The City Wire said Community Health plans to send officials to Sparks next week to directly address the issue with hospital employees.

Schmidt, who has more than 20 years experience in hospital administration and previously served as CEO at hospitals in Illinois, New Mexico and Texas, was in March named the interim Sparks CEO.

Sparks has had a tough time finding a CEO. Schmidt was the third interim or named CEO to resign or be dismissed since the January 2013 departure of CEO Melody Trimble.

Gary Blan was picked to succeed Trimble when she was promoted to president of Naples, Fla.-based Health Management Associates' Southern and Western Group. Trimble’s promotion was effective Jan. 1, 2013. HMA was then the parent company of Sparks. Blan resigned in May 2013, less than three months after being hired.


Charles Stewart was then named CEO in September 2013, but his resignation would come less than six months later.

Sparks and Summit were part of the sale of HMA to Community Health Systems, a company whose portfolio of hospitals was nearly double the size of HMA's portfolio. Locally, CHS owns four Northwest Arkansas facilities — Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville, Northwest Medical Center-Springdale, Siloam Springs Regional Hospital and Willow Creek Women's Hospital in Johnson.

Five Star Votes: 
Average: 4.5 (17 votes)

Like This Article? Share It!


Sparks Needs a True Leader

Community Health Systems needs to get this next one right. The first CEO under their watch resigns in short order, and the interim is dismissed for bigoted remarks in staff meetings. Time to get a true leader, one who is in touch with and understands this community. Empower this leader and let them move this company and this community forward. I'd suggest they get Gary Blan back in place - he left under the old regime because they were obviously only interested in making money, and not the employees or patients. Now, with a new owner and a fresh start, there is a huge opportunity to do right!


What he said is true. What is wrong with that? These so-called minorities need to get a lifethis constant nit-picking at what people say is stupid. You cannot legislate someone to like you. The more you try to force an issue, the more people will react against it.


At least you are an honest bigot. No, you cannot legislate someone liking you, but Sparks and their owners have every right to fire him. Too bad for you that don't agree with or comprehend their reasoning.


This is just truly typical. All the haters coming out BUT that's ok. You reap what you sow and it's just so so sad!! But like I said, TYPICAL!

The issue is not what he said

The issue is not what he said but what it represents. A leader of a large hospital that is tied to a large company like CHS with many employees that are minority cannot think this way. He or she has to be a leader of all employees not just those whom he likes. Remember Mitt Romney got caught saying he did not care about the 47% who would not vote for him then lost the presidency big time. A good leader represents and fights for everyone.

Quick to call

You are awfully quick to call someone a bigot. I simply said that the fellow made an accurate statement and people nit-picked it to make an issue. I would believe you are more likely to fit the bigot label based on you bigoted actions.

So why did he say it as a

So why did he say it as a reason for leaving Laredo? Sounded like it was not a good thing for a city to be 97% Hispanic. I guess when you are white you think it is inconceivable for people not to like you so you have no idea what it feels like to a minomrity when it is made plain that bring a minority is less than desirable. How very arrogant!! If you are not white then you are a fool like those minorities who claim to be a Republican like Condoleeza Rice.

It's the context

What is it that you don't understand? If someone were to ask me why I would want to transfer my son to another school and my response is, "because his school is 97% black". How is that not racist? It's a similar situation here. It is a fact that Laredo is 96% Hispanic, but when is race a factor when considering the success of a health business?...that's what is wrong with that.


I have worked at 5 different hospitals with sparks providing my foundation. Eight years in nursing profession. Sparks hospital treats its employees rather poorly. In fact the worst of all hospitals I have worked at. I wonder how much money has been wasted on the different management teams. Real management needs to be obtained. A team that focuses on real issues. Mr. Schmidt will be remembered as the CEO who holds town hall meetings, hates Hispanic people, and the dude who banned popcorn throughout the system. The power of the system needs to be with the employees. The hospital will continue to spiral if money hungry management teams keep calling all the shots. Take back your hospital folks!

Things are so relative to ones experiences

Don't Hispanics try to avoid Laredo also? Actually the good news is rapes are all the way down to 33 per 100 hundred thousand from 34.1 in the year 2000. Burglaries are down to 1718 from 1749 back then. Across the border in Nuevo..murder city. Wasn't that the place where they found the mass graves a few years back? Who shot the sheriff? Considering every race has people and places you don't want to be around and people and places you do it appears the guy had something quite legitimate to say about Laredo but he said it wrong. It was the high percentage of criminals there. IMO employees might have ended up better off to work with this guy on the issue than to someday end up with a better game player.

Laredo Native Here

Contrary to what people believe, violence in Nuevo Laredo does not affect life in Laredo, TX. The city only had 3 murders last year. In an area with almost 300,000 people, how is that dangerous?

True. Why not just address

True. Why not just address the issue instead of freaking out. Yeah it may seem racist to some but I didn't know that this country had a muzzle on the people so we aren't entitled to free speech.

Free Speech

Most people don't seem to understand Free Speech. It protects you from the Government. They cannot stop you from voicing your opinion. But he said what he thought. That was his right. CHS also has free speech and exhibited it by removing him. You can say anything you want but that doesn't mean there won't be repercussions. From Co-workers, your employer, or the community. They have the same rights. The right to free speech does not protect you from being fired by a privately owned company. Just from action by the Federal Government. He was never asked about Laredo. He was asked why he wanted to come to Fort Smith, which he said he did earlier in his speech. You should never talk bad about a former employer or community to your new employer or new community. It was poor judgment and poor leadership on his part. It was the right move to let him go and move forward.


This hysteria that people go through every time they think someone has offended them is /has gotten just plain stupid. If you look at these folks who are screaming racism, bigotry, sexism and all the homo stuff, all the time, I think you will find a common denominator. These folks all deliberately try to draw attention to themselves. Unfortunately, the liberal press races out to hi-lite all the problems, real or imagined. Quit the whining, quit trying to find someones else to blames for your self-induced problems. One of these days the sky is really going to fall on you if you don't lighten up.


First of all, I agree with the decision to dismiss the CEO. He was completely out of line, and that is not the first comment from him that was totally inappropriate. Second, All this crazy talk about racism. White people ARE the minority now! Hello? And they are the only ones accused of stupid things like this. Every race has special treatment in which they feel they are owed, with the excpetion of caucasions. Indians get special priviliges, Hispicanic has special priviliges, Africian American even have there own college fund. Could you imagine what would happen if someone tried to establish a "White College Fund"? Seriously people. WE ARE ALL AMERICANS!!! How many are there of us that are 100% one race? The United States is called the "melting pot" for a reason....