In a surprise move, Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Northampton, chief Craig Melin to resign
Craig Melin, the President CEO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. Purchase photo reprints »
Trustees of the Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton voted Monday to combine w Purchase photo reprints »
Craig Melin, president and CEO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, announced July 29, 2013, that he will leave the hospital Jan. 31, 2014. Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — For a quarter-century, Craig Melin guided Cooley Dickinson Hospital through shifts in health care economics. As it enters a new era within the Massachusetts General Hospital system, Melin believes it is time for someone else to take charge.
In a move that surprised colleagues, Melin announced Monday he will resign as president and chief executive officer effective Jan. 31 to let a new leader prepare the institution for dramatic changes in how health care is provided.
Matthew M. Pitoniak, chairman of the hospital’s board, said Cooley Dickinson will launch a national search for a leader, aided by Dr. Peter L. Slavin, Mass General’s president; a search committee; an outside firm; and Mass General’s vice president of human resources. He said Monday he hopes to find a successor before Melin leaves early next year.
Pitoniak said 25 years is a long time to be in any job, “especially this one. ... This community owes Craig Melin an awful lot. I’m one of his biggest fans and I’m sorry to see him go.”
He added, “He certainly led us to a successful affiliation.”
Melin’s resignation comes four weeks after Cooley Dickinson was acquired by Massachusetts General.
In an interview Monday from his Elm Street home, Melin, 62, said he decided a new executive should fill open positions and assemble the team needed to keep the hospital viable under the form of financing soon to dominate care in Massachusetts.
Known as accountable care or population-based care, this system will radically change how health care institutions work to keep people well, Melin said.
Instead of providing fees for medical services, this type of care rewards providers for keeping patients healthy.
Melin said he made his decision after calculating it will take five to seven years to adapt to this new type of care — and changing leadership in the middle of that transition could jeopardize its success.
“Everybody has to change. My thought is that a new team, moving forward, would be best selecting those people,” he said. “It might have made sense for me (to stay), but it wouldn’t have made sense for Cooley Dickinson.”
Pitoniak said he and Melin began speaking a few weeks ago about the president’s wish to step away. Melin will prepare a budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 and remain involved with the hospital’s focus on laying the groundwork for the new care system.
The timing is designed to spare the hospital the need for an interim leader. “He’s doing it in a very Craig-like way,” Pitoniak said.
The search committee will attempt to recruit a medical doctor as CEO. Pitoniak says that is because doctors, in the new system, will be far more instrumental in health-care financing “and doctors relate better to doctors.”
The next president will be hired by the local board, with the approval of Mass General, Pitoniak said. Of the 10 people on the search committee, just one — Slavin — will be from Boston. “That alone shows how Mass General views local control,” Pitoniak said.
Slavin said in a statement released by Cooley Dickinson that he, too, was caught off-guard by Melin’s planned departure.
“I was very surprised to hear about Craig’s decision to leave Cooley Dickinson, to which he has been so passionately committed,” Slavin said in the statement. “While I’m not happy about losing him from our team, I am pleased that Craig has agreed to stay on while we search for a new CEO. Our work to realize the benefits of the new relationship between Cooley Dickinson and Mass General will continue uninterrupted.”
Melin insisted that his decision was triggered not by changes stemming from the affiliation with Mass General, but by the new landscape of accountable care, which he said will shift a lot of services out of hospital settings.
“It really becomes an integrated system where everyone is pulling on the same oar at the same time. ... I love these changes. They’re terrific and exciting and fun to work on,” he said.
Because of what he termed its values, Cooley Dickinson has long sought to engage patients in ways that improve their general wellness, even if it didn’t benefit financially from them.
As an example, Melin cited how the hospital would reach out to a patient with congestive heart failure. It would help that person monitor fluids and heart function, but not get paid for that work.
If the patient’s health improved, that could prevent the need for a hospital admission — something that is good for the patient and the health-care system, but which costs the institution revenue.
“For the first time, we get rewarded for doing the right thing,” he said of accountable care, “rather than be penalized.”
He emphasized that adjusting to the new system’s need for thorough coordination of care — from hospital to medical practice to nursing home — “changes everybody’s job.”
“It aligns the incentives, but it does change the work that people will do, and how they do it.”
Melin said he believes Mass General is the perfect partner for Cooley Dickinson because of its experience working under these new terms. “They really understand that coordination.”
Return to teaching
Melin said he will take time off, then explore a return to teaching, as he did in the 1970s at Northeastern University. He would return to academia armed now with a doctorate, which he earned in June 2012 from the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice.
While his studies took him away from Northampton for a spell, the topic didn’t: His doctoral work, pursued over six years, focused on how to lead the transformation of care at a community hospital.