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New Partners chief to be roasted at Whittier bash

Howard Manly | 3/18/2009, 6:36 a.m.

Talk about good timing.

Frederica Williams, president and CEO of Whittier Street Health Center, has a great knack for landing ideal candidates for a good roasting.

Just ask John Kerry. Or Paul LaCamera. Or Wayne Budd.

Now joining the list is Dr. Gary Gottlieb. A psychiatrist by training, Gottlieb was president of the Brigham and Women’s and Faulkner hospitals at the time of his selection.

But late last month, Gottlieb was named the next president and CEO of Partners HealthCare.

“It’s extremely humbling,” he told the Banner.

The roast is another matter. As the Whittier Street Health Center’s largest annual fundraiser, this year’s roast is entitled “SHRINKing Disparities in Health Care,” and will be held April 1, 2009, at Boston’s Park Plaza Hotel.

Though the fundraiser is aimed at having a few laughs at the expense of the person being roasted, Williams said that the night underscores the larger purpose of Boston’s health care community — and the selection of Gottlieb.

“We are honoring him because of his personal mission to increase access to the highest quality of care and his commitment to eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health care,” Williams said in a statement. “Gary is as concerned about the social services programs at Whittier that address social inequities as he [was] in bringing the best technology to Brigham and Women’s Hospital.”

Gottlieb and Williams have worked together for years, and have a mutual respect for one another.

Nationally known for his work in geriatric mental health, Gottlieb was recruited by Partners in 1998 from the University of Pennsylvania, where he had received a master’s degree in business administration from its Wharton School of Business. He became head of Partners’ psychiatric services, and served as interim head of North Shore Medical Center.

He became president of Brigham and Women’s in 1992. He has served as co-chair of the Mayor’s Task Force to Eliminate Health Disparities, and is the chairman of the Boston Private Industry Council, a civic group that seeks, among other things, to build the city’s health care workforce.

Gottlieb called his work at the Private Industry Council one of the “most rewarding” that he has done in his life. But he is better known for his recent work in hospitals — and, he rightly points out, hopefully will become best known for the work he would like to do in the future.

Gottlieb comes to Partners at a time when seemingly all elements of the health care system — everything from insurance coverage to health care access to clinical research to patients’ costs — are all on the table for review or radical change.

That in mind, Gottlieb says that he has a simple, yet extremely complex mission — to create a system that works. His ability to do just that is what Partners is banking on.

“Dr. Gottlieb has brought his immense talent and leadership to every facet of the Partners organization — and to the greater Boston community,” said Jack Connors Jr., chair of Partners’ board of directors.

Started in 1994 by Brigham and Massachusetts General Hospital, Partners HealthCare has grown substantially over the years. According to published reports, the organization provides about one-quarter of inpatient treatment in Greater Boston. Over the years, it has also expanded to include Newton-Wellesley Hospital, North Shore Medical Center in Salem, Faulkner Hospital in Boston and McLean Hospital in Belmont. Partners is also the largest private employer in the state, with 50,000 employees.

Though he has now come to lead one of Massachusetts’ most powerful entities, it is Gottlieb’s work in the community that has impressed Williams.

“Under Gary’s leadership,” Williams said, “Brigham’s has supported programs to reduce the high infant mortality and low birth weights of the residents in our community. Brigham’s also has a program to reduce expensive emergency room visits by linking patients to Whittier as their medical home.”