Lou Woolf, who expanded services at Hebrew SeniorLife and led the Boston-based health care and senior living organization through the punishing pandemic, will step down as its president and chief executive at the end of June 2023.
Woolf, 68, a former business and hospital executive, took over Harvard-affiliated Hebrew SeniorLife in 2009 and has worked to boost its senior housing options and research programs. Hebrew SeniorLife, one of the largest US geriatric research organizations, has drawn more than $85 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging.
During his tenure, Woolf oversaw the opening of its state-of-the-art NewBridge on the Charles retirement community in Dedham, the expansion of other sites in Brookline and Randolph, and the launch of new dementia research and care programs, including the Wolk Center for Memory Health focused on Alzheimer’s.
“We have a very ambitious mission of redefining the possibilities of aging,” Woolf said. “Caring for older people is a team sport.”
Woolf also led the nonprofit system, which operates seven senior living sites, including Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Roslindale, through the COVID-19 pandemic. After one of the state’s first large outbreaks occurred at its Jack Satter House in Revere, he cautioned residents at senior sites against complacency, warning in media interviews, “There is an angry rattlesnake outside your door.”
In contrast to many of the state’s senior housing leaders, who declined to publicly discuss outbreaks at their facilities, Woolf was open about his organization’s early struggles with COVID and the toll it took at its seven sites, where more than 160 residents died from the virus.
About six weeks into the pandemic, the Baker administration tapped Woolf and Tara Gregorio, the Massachusetts Senior Care Association president, to develop a statewide training and accountability program that helped reduce infections after the early waves of the virus swept through many senior sites.
“He’s been a leader of the organization,” Hebrew SeniorLife board chair Melissa Tearney said of Woolf. “He’s strengthened the organization and seen it through some difficult times.”
Tearney said Hebrew SeniorLife’s board will begin a national search for the next CEO. In the meantime, Woolf will continue to lead day-to-day operations and work to complete a $125 million fundraising campaign and a 43-unit affordable senior housing building in Dorchester.
Unlike some other departing executives who avoid the word “retirement,” Woolf said he is comfortable with the term. “I have no plans to not be productive,” he said. “But I’m definitely retiring from the full-time, fast-lane workforce.”
Woolf said he’ll remain involved in the community. He also said he looks forward to spending more time with his family and five grandchildren.
Robert Weisman can be reached at email@example.com.