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Wellforce CEO Retiring at Year’s End

October 3, 2018

LOWELL -- Norm Deschene, who led a transformation of Lowell General Hospital from a community institution to a regional health care provider, announced Tuesday that he plans to retire from his position as Wellforce CEO at the end of this year.

Deschene led Lowell General Hospital as COO and CEO for 31 years and was instrumental in the founding of Wellforce, serving as CEO since its 2014 inception.

“You can only do this once in your career,” Deschene said Tuesday about his approaching retirement. “You think about all the memories you have across a 40-year career -- almost 35 years of it in the Massachusetts market. All the friends, acquaintances and great people I had a chance to work with has been quite an honor.”

Ellen Zane, chair of the Wellforce Board of Trustees, recalled a time in 2013, as a board member at Tufts Medical Center, when Deschene invited her to breakfast with an idea “for how we can change health care in Massachusetts for the better,” she said.

“Norm’s vision was to bring community and academic medicine together in a model that respected both equally,” Zane said. “He knew this type of system would prioritize the patient and offer care when and where the patient needed it, not drive everything into Boston. A year later he delivered on his vision, bringing together Tufts Medical Center and Circle Health to form the new health system Wellforce.”

Under Deschene’s leadership, Wellforce has successfully integrated academic medicine into its members’ communities, including programs in cancer, neurosurgery, pediatrics, cardiovascular and intensive care. The Wellforce system has helped its members control the cost of health care and become fiscally stronger.

Together the organizations have saved more than $50 million through operating synergies.

Deschene spearheaded the expansion of the system in 2017 and 2018 with new members MelroseWakefield Healthcare and Home Health Foundation respectively. He recently helped to recruit exceptional talent to lead Tufts Medical Center and MelroseWakefield Healthcare and promoted Michael Wagner, former Tufts Medical Center CEO, to the position of Chief Physician Executive for Wellforce. Wellforce now includes nearly 3,000 physicians, 12,000 employees, four community hospital campuses, one academic medical center, a children’s hospital, home health and hospice services and $1.7 billion in revenue.

“Over the last three decades, I have had the most rewarding jobs in Massachusetts,” said Deschene. “I am proud of the foundation I have helped to build for Wellforce. We have proven that you can deliver complex care in the community and that you can control health care spending. Wellforce is poised to accelerate health care innovation in Massachusetts. The new executives at our member organizations and our system leaders are ready to take Wellforce into its next phase.”

Deschene began his health care career in Rhode Island and received his master’s degree in hospital administration from the University of Minnesota. In 1984, he joined Lowell General Hospital’s leadership team, becoming CEO in 2003.

Deschene said when he first arrived in Lowell in 1984 there were three hospitals.

“It was very fragmented,” the 64-year-old Groton resident recalled. “A lot of care went to Boston and other places. The migration rate from the Lowell area was around 65 percent.”

Deschene said he new with the right partners, proper investment, technology and structures -- and most importantly people and new positions -- Lowell could grow.

With Deschene at the helm, Lowell General became one of the fastest growing hospitals in Massachusetts and was regularly recognized for its quality, patient satisfaction and employee engagement scores. In 2012, he spearheaded the LGH acquisition of its cross-town rival, Saints Medical Center. Cleverley & Associates named Lowell General a Top 100 Community Value Provider seven consecutive years. It was also the only Massachusetts hospital named to Modern Healthcare’s Best Places to Work in Healthcare.

Deschene was named Healthcare Executive of the Year by the American College of Healthcare Executives and Man of the Year by The Sun in 2012.

“Norm has the great ability to bring people and organizations together to make care better for patients. He has accomplished a great deal for Wellforce, for patients and for Massachusetts, and we are committed to building on the momentum he has created,” said Zane.

Earlier this year, Deschene said he endured a health scare that required surgery. The married father and grandfather didn’t get into the details, pointing out he is currently in good health. However, the experience put in perspective the time he has left.

“It forces you to take a step back and puts life in perspective,” Deschene said. “It certainly was part of my decision going forward. When you have scare like that, you have to evaluate what you’re doing and how much time you spend with the family.”

Deschene will work with the Wellforce Board of Trustees to ensure a smooth transition before the end of the year. The Board will name interim leadership in the coming weeks and launch a national search for a permanent chief executive.

Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis

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