The chairman of the Patients First Health Care Board of Directors for the past four years has resigned to take charge of the group’s affiliated three-bed hospital.

Dr. Michael Rau, a 57-year-old internist in Washington, informed the physicians group’s board of his decision Aug. 1.

Dr. David Chalk, 51, an orthopedic surgeon in Washington, has been named interim chairman. Chalk started with Patients First in January 2000.

Rau’s decision to resign cut short his three-year term that was set to expire in April 2012.

Rau joined Patients First in January 2000 and was elected chairman in April 2007.

When he was reappointed in April 2009, his term was changed from two to three years. Rau has 29 years of service in health care.

The switch in leadership is part of a restructuring and reorganization of the board, according to Cara Knox, director of marketing and communications for Patients First.

Rau’s new position will allow him to focus on the new Patients First Community Hospital, which is scheduled to open Thursday, Sept. 22, adjacent to Patients First’s main building in Washington.

In September 2010, the Missouri Health Facilities Review Committee voted 4-3 to exempt Patients First from going through with the Certificate of Need (CON) process to build the three-bed hospital since the facility’s estimated cost was under $1 million.

St. John’s Mercy opposes the three-bed hospital and exempting it from the CON process.

While a challenge by St. John’s was recently rejected in a decision by the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, it is appealing that decision. (See related story.)

Expand Board

Also part of the restructuring is a plan to expand the Patients First Board of Directors from seven to nine members.

Knox said the increase in board members is meant to better represent the physician groups’ facilities east of Washington and outside of Franklin County.

“Our group is taking on a broader geographic representation,” Chalk said. “Much of our recent growth has been in the St. Louis area and the time for a change of the board, to better reflect the somewhat changing picture of our organization, was now.”

A decision on whether Chalk will become permanent chairman and who the new members would be could come at the board’s next meeting.

The board and membership could meet within the next several weeks, according to Joseph Gubbels, Patients First Health Care CEO.

In addition to changes to the board, Patients First is restructuring its executive team.

The physicians group named Michael Edler as chief operating officer Aug. 8. Edler also will take on responsibilities of the chief financial officer.

The position of CFO has been vacant since June when Scott Harring, who was named CFO in 2010, left for personal reasons, Knox said.

Since April, Patients First has added nine physicians and nurse practitioners.