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Providence Health Taps New Top Lawyer Amid Financial Squeeze

June 30, 2020, 6:42 PM

One of the largest nonprofit Catholic health care providers in the U.S. has installed a new legal chief well-versed in distressed situations as it copes with financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

A. Verona Dorch joined Providence Health & Services this month as an executive vice president and chief legal officer.

The company, which operates 51 hospitals and over 1,000 clinics in seven western states, has watched its costs rise and revenues plunge amid the Covid-19 outbreak. Dorch, who spent nearly the past five years as chief legal officer, corporate secretary, and head of government affairs at coal mining company Peabody Energy Corp., is no stranger to challenging situations.

Providence cited Dorch’s experience handling government relations, compliance, and data privacy—areas of relevance to the health care sector—in large and complex organizations as being instrumental in bringing her aboard. A Providence spokesman told Bloomberg Law that Steven Derks, president and CEO of executive search firm Quick Leonard Kieffer, handled Dorch’s placement.

“We are blessed to have Verona join our ministry’s senior executive team at this critical time in our organization’s history,” Providence president and CEO Rodney Hochman said in a preapred statement.

Dorch, a native New Yorker and the daughter of immigrants from the West Indies via England, oversees about 40 in-house attorneys and reports to Hochman, she told Bloomberg Law. Dorch was known at Peabody for demanding diversity from outside law firms seeking to do work for the company and legal recruiters prospecting for in-house placements.

She began working remotely earlier this month from St. Louis, while most of Dorch’s in-house staff is based in the nonprofit’s headquarters in the Seattle suburb of Renton, Wash. Providence employees are still working remotely due to Covid-19, and Dorch expects to officially relocate to the Pacific Northwest later this summer.

Diversity ‘Progress’

Dorch expects to continue inclusion efforts once she gets settled at Providence, especially given the current national conversation about race following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

“Many of us who are minorities have gone through things and now we’re seeing people who are finally comfortable sharing their experiences,” said Dorch, who has been active with the Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative and Leadership Council on Legal Diversity. “It’s incredibly unfortunate that this came on the back of the murder of George Floyd, but at the same I think we’re making progress.”

Dorch said she’s seeing a “global change” in how law firm and in-house legal leaders talk about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The discussion is moving beyond verbal commitments and messages of support to tangible steps toward transforming the composition of those pursuing legal careers.

“You have legal departments spending millions of dollars, and that money should be spent with an expectation that you see lawyers working on those matters be representative of society,” Dorch said.

Peabody whittled its roster of outside law firms during Dorch’s tenure from more than 100 down to 13, at least 10 of whom met key criteria for diversity and inclusion, be it through mentorship programs or other benchmarks, she said.

Dorch has not yet met one-on-one with Providence’s preferred legal providers—she cited McDermott Will & Emery, Polsinelli, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati as having done legal work for its network—but expects to have conversations with those firms and others once she has the requisite data to begin carving out criteria of importance when making decisions in her new in-house orbit.

Legal Group Transitions

Dorch takes over at Providence from longtime legal chief Cindy Fein Strauss, who is retiring after more than three decades at the nonprofit but will stick around through year’s end in an advisory role. Federal tax filings by Providence show that Strauss was paid nearly $2.6 million in total compensation in 2018, the most recent year for which records are available.

Dorch was not among the highest-paid executives at Peabody in 2019, according to an annual proxy statement filed by the company. Securities filings show that Dorch earned more than $2 million in total compensation from Peabody in 2018; more than $5.5 million in 2017; and nearly $1.3 million in 2016, her first full year at the company and one in which Peabody filed for bankruptcy.

Under Dorch’s guidance, Peabody emerged from Chapter 11 proceedings in 2017 after shedding about $5 billion in debt as part of a restructuring plan. Peabody disclosed in a March 2 securities filing that Dorch would officially depart April 3. She’s since been succeeded in the company’s top in-house legal role by general counsel Scott Jarboe, whom Dorch praised as also being actively involved in its diversity efforts.

While Dorch expects some challenges in switching from the public company to nonprofit in-house arena, she cited Providence’s track record in integrating prior C-suite recruits from the corporate world—such as CFO Venkat Bhamidipati, hired in 2017 from Microsoft Corp.—as assuaging any anxieties.

She also has some experience taking career leaps.

During the dot-com bust two decades ago, Dorch was a senior associate in the Northern Virginia office of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, which was downsizing its corporate group. Dorch was offered the opportunity to relocate to San Francisco or take a secondment in Tokyo with firm client Sumitomo Chemical Co. Ltd. Dorch chose the latter option and became its first non-Japanese in-house lawyer.

That eventually led to an in-house job at Camp Hill, Pa.-based industrial company Harsco Corp., which Dorch joined in 2006 before being promoted to chief legal and compliance officer and corporate secretary in June 2012. Peabody hired Dorch from Harsco in August 2015.

Peabody is among a number of energey companies that have take advantage of using tax breaks afforded by the CARES Act, the federal government’s pandemic relief bill. Providence has joined other hospitals and health care providers making use of $175 billion in total CARES Act funds.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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