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Women take charge at Mass. hospitals

New Marlborough chief is latest in health care leadership post

At Massachusetts hospitals, women are increasingly running the show.

Women lead 29, or one-fourth, of the 111 hospitals licensed by the state, excluding behavioral health and psychiatric facilities. That’s a far greater share of the top spots than in the state’s 100 largest public companies, where only six women are in charge.

The latest woman to take the reins is Karen Moore, chief executive of Marlborough Hospital, who last week joined a senior management team made up almost entirely of women. In this era of reform, industry analysts say, women are well suited to lead hospitals as the focus turns from generating fees for service to reengineering patient care to get the greatest value from every health care dollar.


Ellen Zane recently retired as chief executive of Tufts Medical Center.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/file 2011

Teamwork, multitasking, and communication - traits women are known for - are becoming critical as health care providers are increasingly called on to work together to create more efficient business models, according to the Massachusetts Hospital Association. Hospital chiefs must also deal with everyone from security guards to neurosurgeons to politicians, and women are especially adept at navigating among different kinds of people, said Ellen Zane, who recently retired as chief executive of Tufts Medical Center.

“The day of silos, with medical centers and people pounding their chest for what they can accomplish in their own little fiefdom, are over,’’ Zane said.

Across the country, about a quarter of hospitals are run by women, about the same percentage as in Massachusetts. But nationally, many of these hospitals are small, rural facilities, while in Massachusetts, women are in charge of world-class institutions, such as Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital Boston, and Boston Medical Center.

Women also lead several major health care advocacy groups in the state: the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, the Massachusetts Medical Society, Health Care for All, and the Massachusetts Hospital Association.


In Massachusetts, the state’s progressive leanings have probably contributed to a culture that appears to be more open to women running prominent institutions, health care specialists said. The Massachusetts Hospital Association has also held an annual conference for the past decade to promote women’s leadership - the only such health care association event of its kind in the nation.

Women have historically had a large presence in health care, from nurses to nuns. And as women started climbing the corporate ladder across many industries in the past few decades, the many women in medical fields ascended along with them.

Moore’s career path into the executive suite is similar to those taken by other women in health care. She began her career in 1977 as a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, and quicklybecame a nurse manager. She moved on to vice president positions at several hospitals around New England, then in 2008 took over as chief executive of Kindred Hospital Park View in Springfield, before taking charge of Marlborough Hospital.

Moore said her experience as a nurse manager is particularly important. Nurse managers have clinical and leadership skills, making executives with that background well equipped to lead hospitals as the health care process is put under the microscope.

“It’s the only profession that is trained and educated and studies patient care delivery models,’’ said Moore, 55. “Fifteen years ago I can remember being the only female at the senior leadership table.’’

Today, when Marlborough Hospital’s top six executives meet, it’s all women - except for financial officer Steve McCue. McCue also works as chief financial officer for an affiliated institution, Clinton Hospital. He’s the only man on that hospital’s leadership team, too.


He said he doesn’t think about the gender of his peers, but is well aware that women play a critical role in the industry.

“It does take a special something to be in health care,’’ he said, “and I think women just certainly are more compassionate than men.’’

But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a sense of humor.

After just a few days on the job, Moore joked that she had already figured out McCue’s role: “He’s our token man.’’

Katie Johnston can be reached at kjohnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.

Correction: Because of incorrect information provided by the Massachusetts Hospital Association, the name of the president of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Cape Cod was incorrect in a Wednesday Business section story. Maureen Banks is the hospital’s president. She is also president of Spaulding Hospital for Continuing Medical Care Cambridge, which was left off an accompanying list of Massachusetts hospitals run by women. As a result, the number of hospitals in the state run by women was also misstated: They head 29 of 111 acute and post-acute hospitals.