Cooley Dickinson names Lynnette Watkins as new president, CEO

  • Dr. Lynnette M. Watkins COURTESY OF COOLEY DICKINSON HEALTH CARE

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

Staff Writer
Published: 8/26/2021 12:55:20 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Dr. Lynnette M. Watkins, an ophthalmologist and health care administrator, has been named the new president and chief executive officer for Cooley Dickinson Health Care beginning Sept. 27.

“I appreciate the board of directors and trustees for the opportunity to serve at such a well-recognized, well-respected and esteemed institution,” Watkins said, adding that it will be a privilege to serve people in the Pioneer Valley from a hospital with a proven track record of excellence in care.

Watkins, 51, the group chief medical officer for the Baptist Health System/Tenet Healthcare in San Antonio, Texas, succeeds Joanne Marqusee, who stepped down in March after seven years at the helm. Cooley Dickinson’s strong sense of diversity, inclusion and equity was a key consideration for Watkins in accepting the job.

“I’m honored to be able to strengthen that and expand services with our affiliated network,” Watkins said in a phone interview Thursday.

She said that as part of Mass General Brigham, Cooley Dickinson can leverage the strengths of the academic medical system to expand the level and complexity of services offered to the community, including in oncology, cardiology and women’s healthcare. Watkins said an immediate focus will be on the community needs assessment, especially people who have limited means of getting to the facility.

“We want to offer the care they need and accessibility to it,” Watkins said

The selection of Watkins, following a national search, was based on her extensive health care leadership experience and accomplishments in performance improvement, quality, safety, provider relations and financial management, according to hospital trustees.

Fraser Beede, chairman of the Cooley Dickinson Health Care Board of Trustees, said in a statement that Watkins will be instrumental in guiding the hospital’s future strategic direction and being a key contributor to the success of Mass General Brigham.

“Dr. Watkins brings to us a breadth of skills, leadership experience, perspective and vision that will help Cooley Dickinson continue to thrive as a destination of choice for health care in the Pioneer Valley,” Beede said.

Coming to Cooley Dickinson will be a return to Massachusetts for Watkins, who completed her residency at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston. There, she began her clinical career in ophthalmology and oculoplastic surgery and served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School.

Watkins said she loves the New England environment and is fortunate to have a husband, Ed Sackett, who is Presbyterian minister and photojournalist, who is flexible and willing to travel. They are the parents of three adult daughters and will arrive in Northampton next month with one other companion, a 15-month old goldendoodle named Ella.

Watkins is a second-generation ophthalmologist. Her father, Dr. Garey L.C. Watkins, is one of the first African-American practicing ophthalmologists in St. Louis, her hometown.

Since joining Baptist Health System/Tenet Healthcare in 2017, Watkins has been a member of the team that has provided executive oversight for the multi-hospital system that stretches across Texas, with more than 3,600 beds and $3.45 billion in patient revenue. She also has significant leadership experience in community hospital settings.

Previously, Watkins held the position of chief medical officer/chief operating officer at Paris Regional Medical Center in Paris, Texas. She also has served as chief medical officer in Tenet’s Abrazo Community Health Network in Arizona. Her career as a health care executive began in Mishawaka, Indiana, where she was vice president and chief medical officer for the Saint Joseph Health System/Trinity Health.

Watkins earned her undergraduate and her medical degrees at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and completed her internship in internal medicine at Truman Medical Center in Kansas City before coming to Boston in 1995 as a resident in ophthalmology at Mass Eye and Ear. After residency, she completed a fellowship in oculoplastic surgery at the University of Iowa, then returned to Mass Eye and Ear, where from 1999 to 2004 she directed the Emergency Ophthalmology Service/Walk-in Clinic and was an attending physician in the Ophthalmic Plastic Surgery Service.

Watkins has been a board member of the San Antonio Chapter of the American Heart Association and has been involved as a mentor in the AHA’s STEM program. She served as a participant in the San Antonio Mayor’s Business Roundtable. Her awards and honors include Dean’s Community Service Award, Harvard Medical School; Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society (Medicine); Beta Sigma Gamma Honor Society (Business); Female Healthcare Executive of the Year-Bexar County (Texas) Medical Society Women in Medicine; Notable African American San Antonians; Becker’s Hospital Review of African American Leaders in Healthcare; and San Antonio Business Journal C-Suite Awardee.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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