PROVIDENCE — Seven months after the longtime president and CEO of the state’s largest health care system announced he was stepping down, Lifespan Corp. announced Friday morning that John Fernandez will be its next leader.
Fernandez, who won’t begin at the system until early 2023 after a nationwide search, is currently the president of Mass Eye and Ear and president of Mass General Brigham Integrated Care — both of which are located in Boston.
Lifespan chairman Lawrence A. Aubin Sr. said the board unanimously approved Fernandez after evaluating a slate of candidates who were “exceptional and came from major academic medical centers in extremely competitive markets.”
“But John Fernandez stood out as the leader that Lifespan needs during this time,” said Aubin, who called Fernandez “a versatile and engaged leader.”
He will succeed Dr. Timothy J. Babineau, who stepped down on May 31 after 10 years of leading Lifespan, through the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple failed merger attempts with Care New England, the state’s second largest hospital system. The most recent merger attempt, which included a $125 million minimum commitment from Brown University, resulted in a rejection in February from Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha and the Federal Trade Commission, saying it would hurt consumers by creating a health care giant with a stranglehold on the local market.
Fernandez will be in charge of guiding Lifespan’s strategic direction and will focus on the system’s “ambulatory footprint” to ensure patients are receiving care in the most appropriate setting. Aubin said Fernandez will be tasked with working toward an “alignment with physicians and to create and foster an environment that advances innovation, transformation, and calculated risk-taking.”
During Fernandez’s time at Mass General Brigham, he has led key initiatives to increase access to ambulatory services — services provided on an outpatient basis — in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and other states, including the design, planning, and opening of a multi-specialty care and surgical center in Salem, New Hampshire.
Under Fernandez’s 16-year tenure at Mass Eye and Ear, surgical volume increased by more than 70 percent, research funding ballooned from $18 million to $72 million, and the number of physician office sites grew from four to 22. He led a $252 million capital campaign to advance science and fund life-changing medical research. In 2018, he led the way for Mass Eye and Ear to become a member hospital of Mass General Brigham.
Prior to to his appointment at Mass Eye and Ear, Fernandez served as the vice president of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is the chair of the Conference of Boston Teaching Hospitals, and is a member of the Boston Public Health Commission Board.
Outside of health care, he served on the board of trustees for Suffolk University for a decade until 2021.
Kathleen Hart, a spokeswoman for Lifespan, told the Globe Friday that Fernandez would not be available to the media at this time. His appointment is coming at a time when Lifespan is bleeding money, despite receiving millions in relief funding from state and federal resources, and is dealing with a crippling labor shortage that has been felt by hospital administrators nationwide.
For nearly two years before his appointment, the two largest hospital systems in Rhode Island said it would be “necessary” for Lifespan and Care New England to merge. Two months after the deal was strongly rejected, Babineau announced he was stepping down. About a week before his exit in May, Babineau told the Boston Globe that the failure of the merger was a factor. “When that got blocked, knowing what lies ahead, I thought it was time for a change for me,” said Babineau at the time.
Arthur Sampson left his short-lived retirement on June 1 to take over as interim president and CEO of Lifespan. Previously, he was the president of The Miriam and Newport Hospitals — both of which Lifespan owns.
At Care New England, longtime president and CEO Dr. James E. Fanale is also leaving to be replaced by Dr. Michael Wagner, who most recently served as chief physician executive for Tufts Medicine, which will mean that Rhode Island’s two largest health care systems will soon be led by former Boston hospital administrators.
“I’m confident that John has what it takes to lead Lifespan through the unprecedented headwinds that all healthcare organizations are experiencing across the country,” said Aubin in a statement. “John has the ability to mobilize an organization around focused goals and objectives, while also improving employee engagement and the patient experience.”