South Shore Health, one of the state’s largest community hospital systems, suspended its CEO and another top executive this week while it investigates “various operational and administrative issues.”
In a statement Tuesday, South Shore officials said the chief executive, Dr. Gene E. Green, and Wayne Stockbridge, the chief administrative officer and chief human resources officer, were put on indefinite paid leave. Officials declined to specify what led to the suspensions.
South Shore Health is the parent company of the 393-bed South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, a physicians group, and urgent care clinics.
The leadership turmoil comes amid merger discussions between South Shore and Wellforce, the parent company of Tufts Medical Center, and after the abrupt departure earlier this month of Pamela Whelton, who had worked in the organization for more than 20 years, most recently as president of South Shore Hospital since April.
South Shore Health said its board is hiring a law firm to conduct a review, which is expected to take several weeks. “Once the findings are reported to the Board, we will determine what if any additional actions are required,” board chairman Ken Kirkland said in the statement Tuesday.
The health network has long been affiliated with Brigham and Women’s Hospital. But in July, South Shore confirmed that it was looking for a change, and was quietly negotiating a deal with Wellforce. The news took Brigham & Women’s, which is part of Partners HealthCare, by surprise.
Green has pushed for a Wellforce deal — and he was interested in becoming CEO of the Wellforce network, according to several people familiar with the matter.
That ambition presented a potential conflict because as South Shore Health’s CEO, Green was representing South Shore Health at the negotiating table.
South Shore Health spokeswoman Susan Griffin declined to explain what issues triggered Green’s suspension.
She said it was unrelated to the conversations with Wellforce.
Asked if the board was concerned about the work environment Green created, she said: “The board has taken the necessary steps to allow for a prompt, thorough, and independent review. . . . We remind everyone that at this point no conclusions have been reached with respect to matters that have been reported.”
South Shore officials also said they “hope and expect” to continue discussions with Wellforce.
Wellforce officials said in a memo to employees Tuesday that they look forward “to re-engaging in our partnership discussions” after South Shore addresses its internal issues.
Launched in 2014, Wellforce is the parent of Tufts Medical Center, Lowell General Hospital, and MelroseWakefield Healthcare. It also includes physician groups and a home health and hospice agency.
South Shore and the Brigham have shared a close affiliation. More than 120 Brigham doctors, for example, take care of patients at South Shore Hospital.
Partners also spent several years trying to acquire South Shore Hospital, abandoning the deal in early 2015 amid antitrust concerns, and after Attorney General Maura Healey threatened to sue to stop the transaction.
Green arrived at South Shore several months later, becoming CEO in November 2015. He was previously president of Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md., part of the Johns Hopkins health system.
Stockbridge, the other South Shore executive who was placed on leave this week, also worked at the Bethesda hospital before moving South Shore.
Green sought to expand South Shore’s footprint as a regional health system, including by running an emergency ambulance service and operating a chain of urgent care centers. He also partnered with the state’s largest insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, to pilot a program that encourages hospitals to provide care on a budget.
In Green’s absence, a former South Shore executive, Rose Di Pietro, is serving as acting CEO. Di Pietro spent 38 years in the South Shore system, most recently as chief transformation officer, before retiring last year.
Judith Gordon, a management expert at Boston College, said South Shore’s board should address its leadership issues as swiftly as possible to avoid long-term uncertainty, which could affect employee morale.
“The more quickly things can be resolved, the easier it is for organizations to move on,” Gordon said. “When you hold things in limbo for a long time, people don’t like that.”
South Shore’s chief medical officer, Dr. Timothy Lynch, sought to reassure the public.
“As always our patients and their families are our top priority and our colleagues will ensure that the high quality care provided at South Shore continues uninterrupted,” he said in a statement.
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