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Codman Square Health Center CEO set to retire

Fostered center’s growth as leader since 2011

Avery Bleichfeld
Codman Square Health Center CEO set to retire
Sandra Cotterell, Codman Square Health Center CEO. PHOTO: AVERY BLEICHFELD

After nearly 30 years at Codman Square Health Center, CEO Sandra Cotterell is planning her retirement.

A lifelong Boston resident, Cotterell started her career as a cardiothoracic nurse and has served as the health center’s chief executive officer since 2011. Prior to stepping into the CEO role, she was the chief operating officer at Codman Square Health Center (CSHC) for more than 15 years.

Cotterell, 65, said she’s proud to have created a major resource for the community.

“I feel like we’ve been able to create and be a stable, consistent anchor for the community, and that I’m very, very proud of,” Cotterell said.

Her time in the role has seen extensive growth for the health center. When she started, the center was working with an $18 million operating budget. Now, it is more than $50 million. Under her tenure, the center has added partnerships with the nonprofit grocery Daily Table; Healthworks Community Fitness, a nonprofit focused on fitness opportunities for women and children; and Codman Academy Charter Public School, which shares a building with the center’s clinical space.

Robert MacEachern, president of the CSHC board, said he sees the organization’s partnerships, which has been key to its growth, setting the health center apart. Partnerships fit into a broader organizational ethos that he calls the “Codman Way.”

“You can’t focus on someone’s health care if they’re really worried about violence in their community, if they’re worried about immigration [agents] coming to take their family away. All these things are that toxic trauma that affects so many of our patients, that all of our program at Codman should be directed towards,” MacEachern said. “Sandra has gotten that at a fundamental level.”

Cynthia Loesch-Johnson, president of the Codman Square Neighborhood Council, said Cotterell has, throughout her time leading the health center, been personable and professional, always making herself available to community residents and patients.

“I’m just so grateful for her leadership, because she just continues this legacy of good-quality health care in our neighborhood, and also going beyond the walls of the health center to reach out to the community and build partnerships that way as well,” Loesch-Johnson said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, good-quality health care meant providing accurate and recent information and data to the community to keep residents healthy and informed. Cotterell said the organization focused on increasing access to and confidence in vaccines within the community, partnering with Boston Medical Center to create a large vaccination site at Russell Auditorium on Talbot Avenue, as well as providing education and awareness opportunities.

“Knowing that we could go to the health center,” Loesch-Johnson said, “just providing that information — and of course the resource was right in our community — with an institution that we trust, made all the difference for our neighborhood.”

Cotterell, who received a nursing degree from what is now Simmons University, said she didn’t know much about the workings of community health care when she joined Codman Square Health Center.

“I only knew what I would call the acute aspects of care — it’s like taking care of patients when they were in hospitals recovering from surgery — and when I walked into Codman, I realized that this is about meeting people where they’re at,” she said. “This community is their neighborhood; this is where they live.”

MacEachern said Cotterell’s background as a nurse in patient care helped foster the success she brought to the role. Her nursing experience helped her bring any issue down to the patient level, while her first CSHC role, COO, allowed her to better structure the leadership within the health center to propel the organization’s growth.

“When you have a CEO that has true street cred, both in academia, both within the medical world, but also in the community, that trifecta really creates such a firm hand of leadership that enabled Codman to grow,” MacEachern said.

As Cotterell prepares to exit, Loesch-Johnson said she hopes the new CEO, too, will focus on the “community” aspect of community health, continuing the work that Cotterell has done.

MacEachern, who heads the search committee, said that the core of the health center will remain the same.

“Codman isn’t going to change because the CEO is changing,” MacEachern said.

As she heads toward departure, Cotterell is in the process of doing an operational assessment, she said, documenting a strategic plan and creating a framework so her successor can build on the existing foundation, knowing what CSHC is as an organization and what its competencies are.

“All of that will be documented, really to give someone new a framework for the work that we’ve done, and a solid foundation to build upon that,” Cotterell said. “I was able to build upon the foundation that [founder and former CEO Bill Walczak] created, and I’m hoping that the next person will build upon the foundation that I’ve created.”

Cotterell is not leaving CSHC immediately.  She won’t be out as CEO until a successor is found, and even then, she said, she’s not running out the door.

“I’m not going to pack up the suitcase and say, ‘Okay, tag, you’re it,’” Cotterell said. “I do want to be able to support the person through that transition.”

When she does leave, she said, she’s looking forward to taking time to reflect on what she’s done at the health center — something she hasn’t been able to do much amid the bustle of the job — as well as spend time with her family.

She also plans to continue as a coach with the local chapter of 261 Fearless, a women-only running club that she coaches through CSHC’s partnership with Healthworks Community Fitness.

While she anticipates potentially being tapped for a lot of things, she isn’t planning on rushing into any of them.

“I want to be thoughtful about what that is, especially as I try to balance both family time and reflection time for me,” Cotterell said.

Codman Square Health Center, health care, Sandra Cotterell