WINCHESTER — In the midst of what may be the most challenging time in its 25-year history, Valley Health has named a new president and CEO.

Mark Nantz, former chief administrative officer of Cincinnati-based Bon Secours Mercy Health and interim president of its Atlantic Group, is slated to start his new position with Winchester-based Valley Health on June 1.

Nantz succeeds Mark Merrill, who is retiring after serving as Valley Health’s president and CEO since 2009. Merrill announced in June his plans to retire.

In a telephone interview Wednesday from his home in Greenville, South Carolina, Nantz said Merrill has offered to assist during the upcoming transition process.

“Both of us are fully committed to serving the people of Winchester and doing the best things for our associates at Valley Health,” Nantz said.

According to a Valley Health media release, Nantz is a certified public accountant who holds a master’s degree in health administration from Pfieffer University and a bachelor of science degree in accounting from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. He is also a fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives.

Nantz was executive vice president and chief strategy officer of the Maryland-based Bon Secours Health System prior to its merger with Mercy Health in 2018. Following the merger, he was asked to transfer to Bon Secours Mercy Health’s Cincinnati headquarters to help oversee a multi-state operation with 43 hospitals, but declined.

“I’m more of a Southern guy,” Nantz said. “The Carolinas and Virginia are closer to where my family is. ... I was looking to get back into operations so I could be closer to the employees and clinicians, and really be fully engaged in a community.”

Valley Health Vice President Chris Rucker said hundreds of people were evaluated for the leadership position being vacated by Merrill. Nantz rose to the top of the list following a nationwide search by a committee appointed by the board of trustees, plus extensive input from community leaders, physicians and executive stakeholders.

Nantz said he was first contacted about the Valley Health opportunity in the fall, months before anyone knew how much the global health care system would be strained by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

“You don’t get to pick your timing,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a tough time to be in health care.”

“Although Mark joins us at a challenging time, we know he will transition nimbly and be an effective leader,” Joseph F. Silek, chairman of Valley Health’s board of trustees, said in the media release.

Between now and June 1, Nantz said he plans to get up to speed with Valley Health’s policies, plans and long-range goals, as well as its evolving strategy to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I want to keep us growing, moving forward and serving our patients in the most efficient ways possible,” he said. “The system has a very good strategic plan that is only about a year old, so I expect we’ll try to execute that and add to it as the environment changes and we face different challenges.”

Nantz said he’s looking forward to moving to Winchester with his wife, but he can’t say when they’ll relocate.

“We want to come up, but if local governments are still in lockdown mode, we’re going to honor that,” he said. “As soon as travel is open and available, we’re going to come up there and look at some houses. If that’s next week, we’ll come up next week.”

Even though Nantz will be assuming control of a health-care organization during an international health crisis, he said he is thrilled to be Valley Health’s new president and CEO.

“Valley Health’s reputation within health-care circles is one that’s very, very good,” Nantz said, “and it’s an honor to be able to lead the organization.”

Valley Health is a Winchester-based, not-for-profit health care provider that operates six hospitals — Winchester Medical Center in Winchester, Warren Memorial Hospital in Front Royal, Shenandoah Memorial Hospital in Woodstock, Page Memorial Hospital in Luray, Hampshire Memorial Hospital in Romney, W.Va., and War Memorial Hospital in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia — as well as Urgent Care clinics, diagnostic centers, physician practices, medical transport services and a retail pharmacy. It serves a population of 500,000 people in northwest Virginia, the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia and southwest Maryland. For more information, visit valleyhealthlink.com.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com