Partners HealthCare on Tuesday promoted Dr. Anne Klibanski to become its permanent chief executive, making her the first woman to hold the job at the state’s largest hospital network as it rethinks its companywide strategy.
Klibanski had been leading the company as interim CEO since February, after Dr. David Torchiana abruptly announced his departure. The Partners board had planned to conduct a national search for a permanent leader.
But that search now seems to be over before it truly began.
“Over the past several months, it has become increasingly clear to each member of the board that Anne is the ideal leader for Partners as we move forward together as a truly integrated system,” Scott Sperling, chairman of the board, said in a statement. “Anne has done an outstanding job of managing this large and complex system as we continuously work to provide care of exceptional quality at the lowest possible cost.”
Partners’ network includes more than a dozen hospitals and thousands of doctors. It is also the state’s largest private employer, with about 75,000 employees.
Over the past several months, leaders at Partners and its largest hospitals, Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s, have been grappling with how to integrate the sprawling health care system.
The debate has often centered on who should set the strategy for the organization: the hospitals, or Partners’ corporate office. Torchiana stepped down after his attempts to integrate the health care system met with resistance. The internal tensions included disagreements about who should control new outpatient clinics and how aggressively to pursue mergers and acquisitions.
Partners had planned to acquire Care New England Health System, Rhode Island’s second-largest hospital network, but that deal is on hold after Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo said she prefers to see a merger between Rhode Island-based hospitals — not a Boston-based company acquiring a Providence-based system.
Partners has been in the midst of an effort to rethink thorny issues such as the health system’s brand and governance. Partners officials said Tuesday that several “high level” task forces recently completed their work, and the company will begin carrying out their recommendations in the coming weeks and months.
Klibanski, in a statement, said she sees room for improvement at Partners.
“In recent months members from hospital boards across the system have started to work together in a way we have not seen before at Partners,” she said. “I am honored to have the opportunity to realize the full potential we have to transform health care and make it better for patients and families everywhere.”
Klibanski, 68, has been chief academic officer at Partners since 2012, overseeing a $1.8 billion-plus research operation, as well as efforts to commercialize some of that research.
She is a physician specializing in neuroendocrine disorders and pituitary tumors. She spent more than three decades at Mass. General and heads the neuroendocrine unit there.
Klibanski began her career in science and medicine when those fields were largely dominated by men. Over time, she began to mentor other women working as physicians and scientists — helping them individually, and by pushing for hospital-wide policies to support women.
“One of the greatest things you can do is to watch someone else succeed,” she told the Globe earlier this year.
Klibanski helped launch a competitive grant program at Mass. General to allow women researchers to hire an assistant to keep their lab work going while they raise young children. She was also part of a team that established a backup child-care center for hospital employees.
She has two adult children and is married to Dr. Roy Soberman, a researcher at Mass. General.
In interviews with the Globe earlier this year, people who have worked with Klibanski described her as someone who listens to and collaborates with others. They said she is skilled at seeing the big picture without losing sight of the details.
Klibanski is particularly passionate about the research projects underway at Partners in areas such as genetics and artificial intelligence. She has less experience with other aspects of the CEO job, such as negotiating mergers and lobbying state and federal policy makers.
When Partners board members named her interim CEO in February, they said they expected her to serve for up to a year as they looked nationally for a permanent successor — even though all of the company’s past leaders have come from its two biggest hospitals.
On Tuesday, Sperling, the board chairman, said, “It became obvious to us that any search was going to lead us right back to Anne.”