Dr. Gene E. Green’s career in medicine was not a foregone conclusion. The son of CPAs, Green didn’t start medical school until he was 30, after saving up enough of his own money to go. Green worked in Maryland, leading Suburban Hospital in Bethesda before coming to Massachusetts two years ago to be chief executive of South Shore Health System, which includes South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, a doctors’ group, a nurses’ association, and home care and hospice services.
Green, 54, says that his mother’s death from lung cancer inspired him to become a doctor.
When he’s not running a hospital or seeing patients, he enjoys sailing his boat, watching Navy football games with his husband, and playing video games with his children, age 22 and 19.
1. Green put himself through college by working as an emergency medical technician. The job gave him his first taste of working in health care, and it helped pay for tuition. He used the down time in the firehouse to work on college papers.
“I actually wanted to be a veterinarian, and then I found out I was allergic to cats. I had always thought I really wanted to be in medicine of some sort. I didn’t think there was ever going to be a way I’d be able to afford to do it. I left home at 17. This got me through.”
2. He eventually became a primary care physician. Before coming to Massachusetts, he spent 13 years working for Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. There, in the 1990s, he started treating patients with HIV and addiction. He saw patients and friends die from HIV. But the success stories kept him going.
“I started seeing HIV patients every Thursday simply because they did not have enough doctors to do it. I have one patient that I saw my very first week in Baltimore who had lost everything — his family, his job... He still e-mails me today. He got off of drugs, got his HIV under control. He’s back with his wife, he’s working.”
3. Green took charge of South Shore when the health system was looking for its Plan B. For several years, it had planned to be acquired by Boston-based Partners HealthCare. But that deal was called off in the face of antitrust concerns and the threat of a lawsuit from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. He says South Shore is now forging ahead as an independent regional health system, creating partnerships with other organizations in the community to try to reach a broader population of South Shore residents.
“Focusing on the system, it is about what really should be at the hospital — which is actually only true emergencies, really high-end elective care, and other things. We’ve got to find a way to move things out of the hospital and to the right parts of the system. If you don’t have the pieces of the system, you need to find partners for that.”
4. But the hospital itself remains critically important. Green has been raising money to help fund a $61 million critical care center at South Shore Hospital, which opened in October. The unit includes 24 new beds for patients with cancer, trauma, and other severe medical issues. It’s more spacious than the old critical care center, and it has big windows that give patients views of rolling hills.
“The money that we spend on the bricks and mortar of the hospital are for high-end care. And that [old] unit no longer was able to fulfill its mission. It was too small, too dark, you couldn’t get patients and families and equipment into the room at the same time.”
5. Even as chief executive, Green still sees patients. He doesn’t work in the clinic often enough to have his own regulars, so he helps with admissions in the emergency room. That time with patients and other clinicians, he says, helps inform his work in the corner office.
How does he find the time to put on the white coat, amid raising funds and balancing budgets?
“Put it in your schedule and protect it — just like your gym time. If you don’t do it, it doesn’t happen. Everyone with a clinical license has to use it.”Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @priyanka_dayal.