Bill Walczak, who built the Codman Square Health Center from a volunteer operation in the basement of an empty library building and then turned it into one of the state’s most successful health centers, will leave Codman Square next month to pursue a new challenge: the presidency of Carney Hospital.
Walczak, 56, has been recruited and hired to chart a new course for the Dorchester Ave. hospital, which was just purchased by Steward Health Care System, a for-profit company that promises to pump tens of millions of dollars into the community hospital in the coming years.
Walczak will start his duties at Carney on Feb. 14. His replacement as CEO of Codman will be Sandra Cotterell, a nurse who now serves as the health center’s chief operating officer.
Walczak was approached with the job offer last month and made the decision on New Year’s Day. He said this week that while he struggled with the idea of leaving the health center, he could not pass up the opportunity to lead one of the neighborhood’s most important institutions.
“The irresistible part of this job is the Dorchester part of it,” said Walczak. “Last summer, I had pretty much concluded that I’d spend the rest of my life working at Codman. But, I think that Carney is the hospital of the future. It’s an important community institution and it deserves to be successful. I wouldn’t have left Codman to go to any other hospital.”
“I have a great staff at Codman and being able to turn it over to Sandra Cotterell, a person who is so capable and beloved by everybody,” Walczak said, made the decision a bit easier. “I know Codman Square will be fine.”
Still, Walczak says that his final decision hinged on the level of commitment that Steward’s leadership team— CEO Ralph de la Torre and COO Bob Guyon— expressed to him in meetings about his employment. Walczak says that Steward is “interested in recreating a health care delivery system” that resembles the system that he knew in the 1970s and 80s, when the neighborhood’s community health centers worked closely with Carney, the community hospital that helped to spawn many of the satellite centers.
“Hearing Ralph and Bob talk about the emergence of community hospitals like Carney as the future of our national system, I was really impressed,” said Walczak. “Finally, we have somebody in charge who believes in the community hospital model and is committed to investing in it heavily.”
Bob Guyon, the chief operating officer of Steward, said this week that Walczak was the company’s first choice to lead the Carney once the sale was complete.
“Bill is a blue-sky thinker — from the founding of Codman Square to other institutions and leadership roles he’s taken on,” said Guyon. “I think he was attracted to us because – just like 30 years ago- he has an opportunity to do something very unique and transformative at Carney Hospital. We’re at a unique time in health care at all levels and Carney is in a unique time in its history. It’s a transformative time needs and needs transformative leaders.”
“We all understand that things need to change dramatically and we think we’re part of that solution and Carney is part of that solution,” said Guyon. “Bill understands all the moving pieces and the needs of the community. It’s an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.”
Carney, along with five other hospitals in the Caritas Christi system, was sold last year by the archdiocese of Boston to a for-profit New York firm, Cerberus Capital Management L.P., for a reported $830 million. Steward Health Care System is the subsidiary of Cerebus that will own and manage Carney, along with Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton, Holy Family Hospital in Methuen, Norwood Hospital in Norwood, and St. Anne’s Hospital in Fall River.
In an agreement brokered by the state attorney general’s office, which reviewed and signed off on the sale, the six hospitals cannot be transferred to another entity for three years, and they cannot be closed for five years if certain financial performance measures are met. During the review, Caritas officials had warned that Carney and St. Elizabeth’s in Brighton could close if the deal was not approved.
Walczak has long been both an advocate of Carney as a critical neighborhood asset and a critic of its past owners and managers. He spoke out sharply against the archdiocese when Carney began to pull back support from several community health centers starting in the 1980s— a decision that he still calls “terrible.” Many of the community health centers that were once affiliated or owned by Carney — like Codman — created new arrangements with downtown hospitals instead. Walczak says that Steward — under de la Torre’s leadership— envisions a return to a system in which Carney and Dorchester’s health centers work together more directly.
James W. Hunt, Jr., the president and CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, described Walczak’s move to Carney as “a wonderful opportunity for Bill and great news for Dorchester and the Carney community-at-large.”
“Bill has distinguished himself as a cutting-edge leader in addressing the broad set of factors that impact the health of communities. In addition to ensuring the delivery of culturally and linguistically appropriate primary health care services, Bill has helped to create educational, economic and civic-focused opportunities for the residents of Codman Square. In his new position at the Carney, Bill will be able to shape the delivery of services to an even larger number of residents in need,” said Hunt. “We look forward to working with him.”
Joel Abrams, the executive director of the Dorchester House Multi-Service Center— who partnered with Walczak to create DotWell, called the news “a very exciting development for the Dorchester community – and a very positive one.” “The Dorchester House has had a long and very productive relationship with the Carney, and many, many years of partnership with Bill Walczak and the Codman Square Health Center, and I expect that to continue,” Abrams said.
Reporter Publisher Ed Forry contributed to this article.
Pols embrace Walczak’s move to the Carney
Elected officials who have worked to keep Carney Hospital open in recent years greeted the news of Bill Walczak’s hiring as the hospital’s next president with a mixture of surprise and excitement this week.
“I think it’s a tremendous hire by Carney,” said state Rep. Martin Walsh. “I think it shows their commitment and dedication to Dorchester and the hospital.”
“He’s certainly built an amazing institution in Codman Square going beyond just the delivery of health care and really looking at its patients in a holistic way, right down to the fruit and vegetable prescriptions. Certainly, everyone knows his passion for Dorchester,” said City Councillor Maureen Feeney. “I think it’s a very exciting opportunity and I’m glad the leadership will be someone who understands how important Carney Hospital is to this community.”
Walsh said Walczak is “community-orientated.” State Rep. Linda Dorcena Forry called him a “visionary leader” who turned the Codman Square Health Center into one of the top community health centers in the state.
The new owners are sending a “powerful message” about their intentions for the system of hospitals, said Forry, who is married to Reporter managing editor Bill Forry.
– GINTAUTAS DUMCIUS