Freeman Board Elects New CEO

Friday, October 07, 2011 - Freeman Board Elects New CEO

JOPLIN, Mo.— Following up on the August announcement of Chief Executive Officer Gary Duncan’s pending retirement, the Freeman Health System Board of Directors on October 6 elected Chief Clinical Officer Paula Baker as President and Chief Executive Officer elect, to take office on January 1, 2012.

Board Chairman Lance Beshore said of the election, “This represents the culmination of a five-year leadership assessment and development process undertaken in preparation for Gary Duncan’s retirement. We are fortunate to have such a capable and inspiring leader in Paula to take the helm as the next Chief Executive Officer of Freeman Health System. Her vision and her ability to motivate people to high standards will allow us to continue to serve the region with the best available healthcare. Paula will be working closely with Gary, our long-time and very capable CEO, to ensure a seamless transition.”

In response to her selection, Baker said, “I look forward to leading this extraordinary team of physicians and staff in carrying Freeman to the next level in taking care of our patients and their families. I’m optimistic about our ability to take advantage of the myriad of opportunities I see in our future.”

Baker has served as Chief Clinical Officer for the System since 2008. In that role, she has led approximately 1,800 employees in improving clinical quality performance on several critical indicators. She also developed and managed a grant program that brought more than $3 million to Freeman Health System in its first year. Previously she served for seven years as Chief Executive Officer of Ozark Center and during the preceding 23 years held a variety of prior positions at Ozark Center, including Chief Operating Officer, Vice President of Clinical Services, and Director of Practice Management.

While at Ozark Center, Baker developed and expanded Ozark Center for Autism, the first treatment center of its kind in this part of the country. She significantly expanded Ozark Center’s programming and services across the behavioral health continuum, including the launch of services to the developmentally disabled. During her tenure as Ozark Center CEO, the Center became the largest and most financially successful mental health center in the state and was selected as the region’s Best Place to Work by Joplin Tri-State Business Journal for four consecutive years.

Baker is very active in the Joplin community. Her many awards include Joplin Outstanding Citizen of the Year 2010, Missouri Hospital Association’s 2008 Visionary Leadership Award, Joplin Business Journal’s Healthcare Hero Award, and recognition by the Missouri House of Representatives for distinguished leadership in behavioral healthcare in 2004. She is a member and past president of many local and state boards of directors, including Ronald McDonald House of the Four States and the Missouri Coalition of Community Health Centers. She is a Board member of the Community Advisory Council for the Missouri Foundation for Health and a member of the Missouri Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Baker holds a Bachelor of Science in Education and a Masters of Science in Clinical Psychology from Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. She formally assumes her new position on January 1, 2012.

About Freeman Health System
Not-for-profit, community-owned, and locally governed, Freeman Health System is a 407-bed, three-hospital system. Based in Joplin, the fourth largest metropolitan area in Missouri, Freeman provides comprehensive healthcare and behavioral health services to an area that includes more than 450,000 residents from Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. For more information, visit or Follow Gary Duncan, Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer, at