Departing CEO Joanne Marqusee praises CDH staff, cites growth during tenure

  • Cooley Dickinson Hospital at 30 Locust Street in Northampton. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Joanne Marqusee, CEO of Cooley Dickinson Hospital, fields questions during an interview May 12 at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cooley Dickinson Hospital GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/Carol Lollis

Staff Writer
Published: 3/3/2021 8:12:02 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Cooley Dickinson Hospital’s physicians and staff, almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, continue to work daily to deliver the best care to the public, says outgoing President and CEO Joanne Marqusee.

By putting in place a mandatory face-covering requirement for all staff, setting up a testing site quickly and establishing Zoom-based conversations for improving teamwork, Cooley Dickinson safely served patients as the pandemic hit last March.

“I was most impressed with how quickly staff changed,” Marqusee says. “People kept coming to work and doing the best they could. They would get together and would try new things.”

And while the pandemic has taken a financial toll on the hospital, with federal money covering less than half of what was lost, Marqusee remains optimistic about the hospital’s future, having already seen the impact COVID vaccines have had.

“It has been palpable the improvement of morale among staff since we launched the vaccine,” Marqusee said.

The staff camaraderie and striving for continuous improvements drew Marqusee to the hospital in 2014, and she said she continues to feel fortunate to have led “an incredible group” of caregivers and roughly 2,000 employees during the past seven years.

Marqusee finishes her tenure in Northampton this weekend, moving on to become executive vice president and chief integration officer of Wellforce, a health care system in eastern Massachusetts that includes Tufts Medical Center.

“I feel like this is a good time to leave Cooley,” Marqusee said. “We have a stable leadership team and board and are in a good position to move forward.”

Part of the hospital’s success she attributes to the affiliation with Massachusetts General and access to intellectual capital. “There are lots of terrific opportunities to leverage the relationship so it has the most impact on the community at large,” Marqusee said.

Important programs have been made possible, such as the Mass General Hospital Cancer Center at Cooley Dickinson, teleneural programs with sub-specializations and telemedicine with more access to doctor’s second opinions. A behavioral health pod has been put into the Emergency Department and the Breast Center was created. There have been constant improvements to the physician and provider relationship.

Marqusee said she is also proud of the work that has gone into making the hospital a leader in social justice, promoting diversity and inclusion on the workforce, board and community, starting with LGBTQ programs and more recently launching a comprehensive anti-racism plan.

Sandy Belden, a trustee from 2008 to 2018 and board chairman from 2014 to 2016, praised Marqusee for her signature accomplishment of leading the successful integration of Cooley Dickinson into Mass General.

“She was very persistent and highly effective communicating with people in Boston in getting done what needed to be done,” Belden said.

Belden said Marqusee also built the teamwork culture and focus on healthcare meeting needs of all members of the community, understanding that social justice is part of a hospital’s work.

One difficulty Marqusee has frequently cited is bringing physicians and other medical leaders to western Massachusetts.

That challenge is compounded by the state’s rules that limit reimbursements to physicians. Still, she feels the hospital has largely overcome the challenges exacerbated by its size and location, and now COVID, by giving people opportunities to advance their careers.

“It’s been very successful the past few years compared to before that,” Marqusee said.

When she got to Northampton, one of her immediate responses was to rebuild the Childbirth Center, which had been in crisis after two infant deaths and allegations that caregivers didn’t properly treat the high blood pressure of a mother who later suffered a stroke and died. Marqusee supported the staff and reestablished trust with the community

“I’m really proud of what the Childbirth Center has done,” Marqusee said

In addition to the Cancer Center and Breast Center, the Atwood Health Center in Northampton opened during Marqusee’s tenure and new affiliated medical office sites were built in Belchertown and South Deerfield as well as an urgent care facility in Southampton.

Her successor will have to find ways to continue to work more closely with Mass General, rebuild aspects of the physical plant, including the Childbirth Center so that it becomes more of a family center than on focused exclusively on the “birthing person,” and prepare and design the new emergency room department.

Observing that her late husband received treatment at Cooley Dickinson before his death, Marqusee said she never thought he could have gotten better care anyplace else.

“I often emphasize to our community just how incredible the staff and providers are,” Marqusee said. “They have the highest clinical skills and knowledge combined with real passion.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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