Stepping into one of the toughest jobs in healthcare, Douglas Dean Jr. will take the helm of embattled Optima Healthcare, Bedford, N.H., in early July.
Dean, 46, is now executive vice president of Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill. As Optima's president and chief executive officer, he will take on the challenge of reconciling its strategy to consolidate the only two private acute-care hospitals in Manchester, N.H., with strong community opposition.
"Job one for me is to first hear those perspectives out and understand them as we develop a strategy for moving forward," Dean said. He said he will shuttle often between Chicago and Manchester even before he officially takes the reins at Optima, and he plans to meet with some of the consolidation opponents as soon as this week.
In the meantime, a voluntary moratorium on construction at 243-bed Elliot Hospital to accommodate the shift recently was extended through July. If the consolidation goes as planned, it would effectively transform 262-bed Catholic Medical Center into an outpatient and rehabilitation facility.
Optima officials assert that consolidation is a necessary reaction to managed care that will enable the system to contain costs while assuring quality care. But in November Manchester voters approved a nonbinding referendum by a 2-to-1 margin to keep both hospitals open as acute-care facilities. To make matters worse, in March the state attorney general lambasted the system for breaking New Hampshire charity laws by violating the missions of the Manchester hospitals after they merged to form Optima in 1996 (March 16, p. 2).
Dean steps into his new job with his eyes wide open, according to his current boss.
"Among other things, it's the challenge that intrigued him," said Anthony Barbato, M.D., president and CEO of the Loyola system, which anchors Accord Healthcare Network, the largest Catholic provider network in Chicago.
"Dean understands market dynamics better than most people, and his strategic skills in terms of both system and business development are very keen," Barbato said.
Barbato, who said he is familiar with Optima's recent travails, believes Dean's skills match well with the issues at hand.
For instance, Dean brings experience in teaming a Catholic hospital with a secular one under a hot public spotlight. Loyola University Medical Center, a 536-bed Catholic hospital in Maywood, is merging with secular 273-bed West Suburban Hospital Medical Center in Oak Park, Ill.
Dean's track record helped distinguish him from a pack of 15 candidates identified in a national search by Witt/Kiefer, Ford, Hadelman & Lloyd, an executive recruiter.
"You think you're a pioneer, and then you find someone who has been there before," said Harold Acres, chairman of the Optima board of trustees and head of the search committee.