Mass General Brigham has promoted a veteran department chief to run the prestigious Massachusetts General Hospital and help carry out an ambitious plan to create a more unified health care system.
Dr. David F. M. Brown will become president of the hospital and executive vice president at the Mass General Brigham system on Sept. 8. He is chair of the department of emergency medicine at MGH, a position he has held since 2013.
With his ascension, and the appointment of a new president at MGH’s sister hospital, Brigham and Women’s, Mass General Brigham executives will have two critical allies to advance their strategy to end internal rivalries and enhance cooperation in order to draw patients and gain global prominence.
Brown, 58, is a familiar and respected name at MGH, where efforts to make the hospital work as part of a unified health care system have run into resistance. As an insider, he may be better positioned to ease tensions.
Brown has worked at the hospital for 32 years, starting as an intern. He called himself an MGH “lifer” and said he hopes his appointment reassures physicians who are uneasy about the push to work more closely as part of a hospital system.
“MGH is in my DNA, and I have love, respect, and affection for it,” he said in an interview. “At the same time, I have a clear-eyed understanding and full-throated support of our MGB vision to become a fully integrated health care system in service of our patients.”
Brown will succeed Dr. Peter L. Slavin, who has led the hospital for 18 years and announced in April that he would step down, saying a new leader should lead the integration work.
Mass General Brigham, long known as Partners HealthCare, was founded nearly three decades ago — but its founding hospitals, MGH and the Brigham, have continued at times to compete.
Brown recalled walking through Logan Airport some years ago and seeing competing ads for MGH and the Brigham near each other.
“Until very recently, we acted like a federation of loosely affiliated hospitals,” he said. “That, at times, is very confusing to patients. We want to make the approach to care at Mass General Brigham much more patient-centered.”
Dr. Anne Klibanski, chief executive of Mass General Brigham, said she selected Brown from a large and diverse field of candidates and called him the best person to lead MGH during this “critical point in the history and evolution of Mass General Brigham.”
“David has been in our system for a long time. He understands the culture. He understands what makes these institutions special,” Klibanski told the Globe. “But he also embraces the strategic vision of where we need to go in the future.”
Patients are starting to see the new strategy at work. In July, Mass General Brigham said radiologists across the system would work together under one chief. In August, the organization launched a sports medicine program. And it has been rebranding names and logos at its more than a dozen hospitals to conform to the new corporate identity.
The strategy, however, has stirred tensions among many physicians and executives across Mass General Brigham, who are concerned about ceding power to the parent company. Several leaders, in addition to Slavin and former Brigham president Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Nabel, have left or are planning to leave.
Brown came to MGH in 1989 after receiving his undergraduate degree at Princeton and medical degree at Columbia. He is a professor at Harvard Medical School and has been serving as interim president of Cooley Dickinson Health Care of Northampton, which is affiliated with MGH.
He has continued practicing as a physician in MGH’s emergency department, including in the early days of the pandemic when the hospital was flooded with COVID patients. Last year, he moved out of his Lexington home for almost four months to protect his wife and daughter, who was pregnant at the time, and stayed in a Beacon Hill apartment while working shifts taking care of COVID patients.
He also has treated patients at MGH clinics in Chelsea and Revere.
Brown’s appointment comes several days after Klibanski chose an outsider as the new leader for Brigham and Women’s Hospital: Dr. Robert S.D. Higgins, the surgeon-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Higgins will join the Brigham in December.
Instead of serving mostly autonomous hospitals, Higgins and Brown will work closely with Klibanski and other executives to set policies and launch initiatives across the Mass General Brigham system.
“With these two new leaders in place, we will have fresh outlook to move quickly, deliberately, but most importantly, thoughtfully, [as] to how we can take the best care of patients,” Klibanski said.
Brown will lead the busiest hospital in the region, which has 1,043 licensed beds and is regularly overcrowded. The hospital is seeking city and state approvals to build a $1.9 billion expansion in Boston’s West End.
That project is part of a broader growth plan at Mass General Brigham that also includes an expansion at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, and three new surgery centers in Westborough, Westwood, and Woburn.
Dr. Katrina Armstrong, physician-in-chief at MGH, called Brown an outstanding doctor who is committed to advancing equity and inclusion. She credited him for recruiting women physicians to leadership roles.
“David is deeply trusted across the Mass. General,” Armstrong said, “and I’m sure that will make the transition period easier for many people. We’re excited about the new leadership at the Brigham also.”