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Gottlieb Leaving Partners HealthCare For Partners In Health

The CEO at Partners HealthCare, the state's largest private employer, plans to step down.

Dr. Gary Gottlieb agreed Friday to become the CEO at Partners in Health, a global health organization whose latest project is an Ebola response effort in West Africa.

Gottlieb is scheduled to make the transition on July 1, 2015. His decision comes amid acourt review of Partners' controversial expansion plans and questions about Gottlieb’s ability to manage political dynamics outside the hospital network.

His supporters point out that Gottlieb has just begun his second five-year contract, and they say Partners board members urged Gottlieb to stay. But some current and former Partners leaders say dissatisfaction with Gottlieb’s leadership has been building for months and that the Partners in Health job offers Gottlieb a graceful way out.

He will take a dramatic pay cut, from more than $2 million a year to $200,000 a year at Partners in Health.

Gottlieb serves on the board at Partners in Health, has visited the group’s projects in Haiti and Rwanda, and calls it the most important global health initiative in the world.

“This is a singular opportunity to lead that organization at a time when it is clear that improving sustainable health care throughout the world is critical to all of us,” Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb says he began thinking seriously about moving to Partners in Health this summer, and decided to make the change earlier in the fall after hearing Partners in Health co-founder Paul Farmer describe what was happening in West Africa.

"With Ebola, maternal deaths had increased because there was no place for people to deliver babies," said Gottlieb. "Malaria deaths had increased because there was no way to provide the appropriate care for what is a more ordinary terrible disease. The notion that building sustainable health care was essential for real social justice and real change had become even more obvious."

At Partners in Health, Gottlieb will be the first CEO and the first person to run the organization who is not one of its co-founders. He will replace Ophelia Dahl, who is the current director. She will chair the Partners in Health board.

"Gary is a dream come true," said Farmer in a statement. "He weds deep affection for PIH... with the sort of management and clinical skills needed to bring PIH to the next level. There's no place from which to see this more clearly than West Africa right now."

Gottlieb says his pending departure will not interfere with plans to fold South Shore Hospital and Hallmark Health into the Partners network.

"We have a very strong leadership team and very strong board and very strong institutions," Gottlieb said. "The momentum in the work that we're doing will continue to move it forward. I don’t believe that my departure will adversely affect those events."

Several internal candidates are being suggested to succeed Gottlieb including Mass. General CEO Dr. Peter Slavin, Brigham and Women's President Dr. Betsy Nabel and Dr. David Torchiana, CEO of the Mass General Physician's Organization. Dr. Tom Lee, who left Partners last year, and Dr. Mike Jellinek, who moved from Partners to Lahey Health earlier this year, have also been mentioned as possible candidates.

"It will be interesting to watch whether this resignation will lead to new strategic directions within the Partners organization," said Ellen Lutch Bender, president and CEO at Bender Strategies. "Leadership changes on this level often reset corporate direction."

If that's the case, some at Partners question whether Gottlieb should make the transition sooner, and avoid an eight-month period of limbo for the 10-hospital network.

This post was updated at 3:20 p.m.

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