A growing exodus of hospital executives, which health care officials say is threatening the quality of patient care nationwide, is not plaguing Utah.

Not now, that is.While nearly one-fourth of the country's hospital chief executive officers resigned their posts last year, Utah's hospital CEOs for the most part stayed on the job.

"Traditionally there has been a round-robin trend; hospital administrators have been staying in Utah whenever possible," said Ronald L. Bouck, director of communications and education, Utah Hospital Association. "There have been a few recent changes in administrators, but normally it has been fairly stable."

Not so nationally.

In 1981-82, 16.9 percent of hospital chief executives left their positions, according to a study by the American Hospital Association, the American College of Healthcare Executives and Heldrick and Struggles, an executive search consulting firm.

But in 1986-87 the number grew to 24.2 percent, the survey said.

The turnover rate at the 5,526 hospitals surveyed increased an average of 4.5 percent per year over the six years covered by the study.

Facilities with financial difficulties had a greater percentage of chief executives leaving, said Stuart Wesbury Jr., president of the American College of Healthcare Executives.

And former hospital chiefs said money was their reason for leaving.

"The expectations upon the administrators and the CEOs have increased, especially in the area of financial operation," said Carl Fitch, president and chief executive officer of Holy Cross Health Services of Utah, which oversees three hospitals in the state.

Fitch recently resigned as chief executive of a hospital in the Southwest because of the challenge of joining the Utah health services firm. But he said his case was not typical.

"Usually, either the administrator sees the financial demands are too much or he realizes he can't deal with them," he said. "In some cases, he voluntarily leaves or he may be asked to leave."