Douglas Fairfax had more than the usual interest in news reports from Tanzania two weeks ago about a terrorist bomb that ripped through a U.S. Embassy.
He had just taken the job as chief executive officer of the hospital that was receiving the casualties.
Fairfax, 57, hadn't yet told colleagues at HealthAlliance, a Leominster, Mass.-based two-hospital system where he is CEO, about his plans to take the executive post in the Tanzanian seaport of Dar es Salaam, site of the bombing.
He said his announcement last week brought "shock and amazement" to hospital employees still tuned in to the scenes of destruction that killed 10 people and injured more than 70. "Some people thought I was just about crazy (for going to the site of unrest), but you can't make decisions based on that."
Fairfax said he's had "a keen interest for at least a decade" in going to Africa. "It's sort of a chance to give back," he said. "My mother would never believe the dollars I make doing what I do."
His new employer, Aga Khan Health Services, operates in East Africa, including Uganda and Kenya as well as Tanzania. As fate would have it, Fairfax's final decision came down to facilities in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, the Kenyan capital and site of a second bombing of a U.S. Embassy.
Fairfax said he chose Tanzania because "it's a kinder, gentler place to be, and they need a lot more help." His new system includes a "big" urban hospital-"big for them is 88 beds"-with numerous outpatient facilities, plus a handful of three- to 15-bed outposts 100 to 200 miles away in what's called "upcountry."
Two years ago, the CEO landed in a different kind of muddle. He took over at HealthAlliance when it was in the midst of a minor uprising over the conversion of one of its two hospitals to an outpatient facility (May 11, p. 38). "I leave HealthAlliance in a lot better shape than I found it in," Fairfax said.
The shape of things on the other side of the world, punctuated by the U.S. military bombings last week, is enough to unnerve Fairfax's wife a little, he said, but the events "didn't change my mind. It's a quiet, peaceful country."