The chairman of Britain's biggest care homes provider has stepped aside as the group was braced for an "intense" period of restructuring talks.
Ray Miles, chairman of Southern Cross, handed the reins to non-executive director Christopher Fisher.
Last month the Darlington-based firm said it was in talks with the government over its "financial difficulties".
Southern Cross has some 37,000 residents in more than 750 UK homes.
The firm is preparing a restructuring plan in a drive to reduce its rent burden.
The group, which owns the Southern Cross Healthcare and Ashbourne Senior Living brands, admitted that uncertainty over its future had placed further strain on its trading performance.
Southern Cross has been squeezed in recent months as councils and primary care trusts, which pay for more than 70% of its customers, demand rate reductions, while its rents have risen.
But the firm said its lenders remained supporters.
Mr Miles said: "Given that my own experience has mainly been building businesses and improving their operational performance and that the company now faces a period of intense financial restructuring, it is time to hand over to others with more experience of this."
Mr Fisher spent most of his career at Lazard, the investment bank, where he was a managing director, and has also served as vice chairman of corporate finance at KPMG.
He said the board would focus on supporting chief executive Jamie Buchan as he led the restructuring talks.
Earlier this year, Southern Cross reported that occupancy in the three months to 31 December was down to 87.6% from 90.7% a year earlier following a decline in admissions of elderly residents by local authorities.
Its poor start to its financial year came after annual losses for the year to 30 September more than doubled and prompted the company to appoint KPMG to help it negotiate with landlords and lenders.