Partners HealthCare announced Monday it has named a physician and top executive as its interim chief executive, a move meant to provide continuity as the hospital network enters a period of transition.
Dr. Anne Klibanski, 68, will be the first woman to lead Partners, the state’s largest network of doctors and hospitals and the parent of Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals. She is currently the chief academic officer, overseeing Partners’ research and teaching programs, and heads the neuroendocrine unit at Mass. General.
The current chief executive, Dr. David Torchiana, said late last month he plans to step down in April. Torchiana, 64, had pushed to integrate Partners — but had met resistance from other senior leaders in the organization. He has been chief executive since March 2015.
Officials at Partners, which is the state’s largest private employer, said they expect the search for a permanent CEO to take up to a year. They plan to look nationally, although all of the organization’s past leaders have come from Mass. General or Brigham and Women’s.
Klibanski has spent more than 30 years at Mass. General and still sees patients. She is an accomplished researcher specializing in neuroendocrine disorders and pituitary tumors. She became chief academic officer in 2012.
As interim CEO, Klibanski will be expected to bring stability to an organization undergoing change. Torchiana had been leading an effort called Partners 2.0 to cut costs, increase revenues, and rethink the role of Partners and its hospitals.
Mass. General and the Brigham came together to form Partners 25 years ago, but the two teaching hospitals —
both huge organizations on their own —
have maintained much of their independence, and hospital leaders have sometimes bristled at the direction set by the corporate office.
“When I think about Partners versus the hospitals, that’s a very false distinction to make,” Klibanski said Monday. “I really think of it as ‘How do we function optimally as a health care system with two of the best hospitals in the country — together? How do we work together as a system?’ ”
Neither Klibanski nor Scott Sperling, chairman of the Partners board, said whether she would be a candidate for the permanent position.
“We haven’t even started that process yet,” Sperling said.
Sperling called Klibanski one of Partners’ most experienced leaders and a “manager of complex efforts.” She will work closely with other executives to continue the Partners 2.0 initiative, launched by her predecessor, he said.
Torchiana also pushed to expand Partners by acquiring hospitals outside of Massachusetts. Partners is still seeking approval to take over Rhode Island’s second-largest hospital network, Care New England Health System. Another deal Torchiana had considered, to acquire the insurance company Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, has been tabled.
The Boston health care consultant David Williams said naming an interim CEO gives the board some time to conduct a thorough search for a permanent replacement.
“They have a history of taking a senior physician and making them CEO of Partners,’’ said Williams, the president of Health Business Group. “Now I think they’re not sure if they want to do that again or if they want to look more broadly for, say, a business person.”
Dr. Paul Hattis, a professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, said Klibanski appears to be a choice that both Mass. General and the Brigham could support.
“Choosing the chief academic officer, it seems to me you’re choosing somebody who is a neutral individual,” he said.
Klibanski currently oversees a more than $1.8 billion research operation that includes an array of biomedical research projects, in fields such as artificial intelligence in health care. She has guided efforts to monetize that research by signing deals with pharmaceutical and medical device companies. Klibanski is also a professor and a dean at Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Katrina Armstrong, physician-in-chief at Mass. General, described Klibanski as someone who builds bridges between departments and institutions — “somebody who sees how to make the sum greater than the parts.”
“She is thoughtful, she is experienced, she is extremely levelheaded,” Armstrong said.