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Allina Health appoints first female and doctor CEO in its history

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Leading Minnesota healthcare provider Allina Health has announced its first female and physician chief executive in its 20-year history.

The company, which operates 12 hospitals and more than 90 clinics in the Twin Cities and Southeastern Minnesota, announced Monday that Dr. Penny Wheeler will assume the role once current CEO Kenneth Paulus retires at the end of the year.

It's a case of promoting from within for Allina, with Dr. Wheeler made the chief clinical officer in 2006 and the company president last year.

"I am enthusiastic about our plans and appreciative of the confidence shown in me by Ken Paulus, by the board, and by all our colleagues," Dr. Wheeler said in a company announcement.

Dr. Wheeler will take charge of a company that generated revenue of $3.4 billion in 2013 and which is responsible for hospitals including Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis, United Hospital in St. Paul and Unity Hospital in Fridley.

Not only is Dr. Wheeler the first female chief executive in the company's 20-year history, she is also the first doctor to be appointed to the role, which the Star Tribune says reflects a recent trend in Minnesota after physicians were appointed as CEOs at St. Cloud-based CentraCare and North Memorial Health Care in Robbinsdale.

Dr. Wheeler will take the reins after a period of acquisitions and mergers at the company, which under Paulus' leadership has bought Regina Medical Center in Hastings and District One Hospital in Fairbault, according to The Business Journal.

The Journal also reports that Allina had revealed plans to trim $100 million from its budget following a profit drop in the first quarter of this year. But in its press statement, the firm said Paulus, who said he now plans to spend more time with his family, left the company in a "strong financial position".

Top executive leaves in UnitedHealth shake-up

As Dr. Wheeler prepares to take up her new role, another prominent female health executive in Minnesota has announced her departure.

Gail Boudreaux has announced Wednesday she will be stepping down from her position of executive vice president at UnitedHealth Group and as CEO of UnitedHealthcare after six years at the Minnetonka-based healthcare giant.

It comes during an executive shake-up at the company, which has seen the creation of an Office of the Chief Executive led by CEO Stephen Helmsley.

"We are deeply grateful for Gail's many contributions to our enterprise, her executive leadership, the focus she brought to local healthcare markets, building our culture and fostering innovation, as well as for her fellowship and counsel," Helmsley said in a company announcement.

Women still not represented at CEO level

Dr. Wheeler and women as a whole remain very much in a minority among chief executives at America's larger companies.

Although the number of women CEOs at Fortune 500 companies reached 24 as of July 2014, a record number, Fortune reports that this still represents just 4.8 percent of America's top firms.

This number has since increased to 26 in November, according to Catalyst, while the total number of female CEOs in the Fortune 1000 stands at 54, just 5.4 percent of all chief executives.

There is also a disparity at the director level, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that just 6 companies on the Standard & Poor's 1500 Index have a majority of women on their board, and that women account for only 15.6 percent of all directors across the index.

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