Ensign Group Leadership Shuffle to Bring New CEO

Skilled nursing provider The Ensign Group (Nasdaq: ENSG) on Thursday announced a series of leadership changes that will bring a new CEO to the company by spring.

Barry Port, currently chief operating officer of the company’s Ensign Services arm, will take the reins from Christopher Christensen effective May 30, while Christensen transitions to executive chairman and chairman of the board.

Christensen, who has served as the Mission Viejo, Calif.-based operator’s president since the company was formed in 1999 and as CEO since 2006, will continue to work full-time in his new role.


“The truth is, in all my years at Ensign, I have never been more energized or exhilarated about the opportunities that lie ahead,” Christensen said in a statement announcing the leadership change.

Ensign made a series of other moves at the top of its leadership structure, with current chairman of the board Roy Christensen shifting to the title of chairman emeritus, and Spencer Burton — president of Pennant Healthcare, Ensign’s Northwest-based portfolio company — rising to president and COO of Ensign Group.

Chief financial officer Suzanne Snapper will add executive vice president to her title on May 30, while EVP and secretary Chad Keetch will be promoted to chief investment officer.


“Chad has been a key contributor to Ensign’s growth and success since he arrived here in 2010, and I couldn’t be more pleased to ask him to serve in this role,” Christensen said.

Ensign has consistently ranked at the top of the skilled nursing industry hierarchy in recent years, riding a unique hybrid model to predictable quarterly profits and solid turnaround stories. Though the company operates 244 buildings in 16 states across the West and Midwest, each facility has its own autonomous leadership team that can make independent operational decisions. Individual skilled nursing facilities are also not branded with the Ensign name, though they receive support from the company’s unified back-office operations.

In an era where bigger isn’t necessarily better, Ensign executives frequently tout this local-national compromise as the reason for its success — and repeatedly insist that the headwinds facing the SNF industry don’t have to affect every operator.

“The dynamics in our industry, while sometimes challenging, are not nearly as difficult as many are led to believe as a result of these self-imposed challenges that follow creative financial engineering,” Keetch said on Ensign’s fourth-quarter 2018 earnings call earlier this month, which saw the company increase net income by 38.3% over 2017 and log multiple quarterly profit records.

Christensen echoed that sentiment in announcing the company’s new leaders.

“Ensign consistently outperforms our peers because our local leaders and caregivers consistently make our operations the preferred destination in their local healthcare communities,” he said.

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