Caritas Christi names new president

BOSTON -- Caritas Christi Health Care named Dr. Ralph de la Torre president and chief executive officer April 2.

De la Torre, a cardiac surgeon with dual graduate degrees from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will be responsible for overseeing the operation of the system’s six-hospital network.

He said in a Caritas press release, “I am honored to be given the opportunity to lead a health care system with a tradition of providing high quality care in an environment of compassion.”

In the statement, de la Torre acknowledged that challenges lie ahead for the health care network.

Caritas Christi Health Care, established in 1985, is the second largest health care system in New England. It is made up of six hospitals in Brighton, Brockton, Dorchester, Fall River, Methuen and Norwood.

The Archdiocese of Boston authorized a review of the system by Chicago-based firm Navigant Consulting in November 2006. The archdiocese also appointed a Strategic Review Committee, which recommended affiliation with a major Catholic health care system, but efforts to do so were unsuccessful.

Caritas completed its third profitable year Sept. 30, 2007, following six consecutive years of losses. The only hospital to finish in the red in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 was Caritas Carney Hospital in Dorchester.

Last month, Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office is responsible for the oversight of nonprofit hospitals through its Public Charities Division, released a report that recommended the archdiocese relinquish direct control of Caritas.

In a joint letter released March 6, Cardinal O’Malley and James Karam, chair of the Caritas board, said Caritas has made “significant progress” and announced changes to the system’s board, based on recommendations from the Governance Review Committee, established last October.

Caritas now has an independent board and senior management that will be responsible for the systems’ business decisions. The archdiocese will limit its involvement with Caritas to matters of its Catholic identity and any transaction that would involve the sale or transfer of the system.

The vicar general and chancellor of the archdiocese will no longer serve on the system’s board, but Father J. Bryan Hehir has been appointed as the archdiocesan liaison to Caritas and a member of the Caritas board. His previous post as secretary of social services has now been expanded to secretary of health and social services.

De la Torre said he looks forward to continuing to strengthen the system’s performance and financial stability, continuing its important mission “well into the future.”

Previously, de la Torre founded the Cardiovascular Institute and Cardiovascular Management Associates at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and served as president and CEO there. He assisted in the hospital’s improved finances and services over the past several years.

He has also served as a member of the Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians board.

“Dr. de la Torre’s experience in and strategic understanding of the complex relationships involving hospital operations and finance, physician practices and network development, along with his ability to innovate new partnerships make him uniquely qualified to lead the network at this critical juncture in its history,” said James Karam.

De la Torre possesses the “vision, passion, leadership and business acumen” required to lead Caritas, he added.

In the Caritas statement, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley welcomed de la Torre “with great enthusiasm.”

“His leadership combined with the new governance system of Caritas Christi begins a new chapter in the system’s history, one that will result in a stronger system that is well poised to continue our long and proud tradition of serving the needs of all patients,” he said.

Cardinal O’Malley also thanked Dr. John B. Chessare who has served as interim president and secretary since May 25, 2006.