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Valley Regional Picks Chief, Links with D-H

Peter J. Wright has been president and chief executive officer of Valley Regional Healthcare in Claremont. (Courtesy photograph)

Peter J. Wright has been president and chief executive officer of Valley Regional Healthcare in Claremont. (Courtesy photograph)

Claremont — A hospital administrator in Littleton, N.H., has been chosen to be the next president and chief executive officer at Valley Regional Hospital, the hospital announced yesterday.

Next month, Peter Wright will step into the Claremont hospital’s top job at a time when small rural hospitals everywhere adjust to a shifting landscape within the health care industry. Wright will replace Claire Bowen, who stepped down last month after announcing her retirement a year ago.

Wright, 40, has worked in the health care industry for nearly 12 years, first in planning and development for Copley Health Systems in Morrisville, Vt., and more recently with Littleton Regional Hospital, where he has been the chief operating officer since 2007. Wright will begin at Valley Regional on March 4.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Wright said he was attracted to the community feel of Valley Regional and hoped to work closely with its 470 employees during a time of great change in health care.

Wright’s appointment comes as Valley Regional begins a new business relationship with Dartmouth-Hitchcock, by way of a management services agreement. Under this arrangement, Wright is technically an employee of Dartmouth-Hitchcock who is then “leased” back to Valley Regional. He will still report directly to the Valley Regional Board of Trustees, however, and Dartmouth-Hitchcock will have a seat on Valley Regional’s board.

“I’m a very hands-on person,” Wright said. “I roll up my sleeves and walk through the hallway, and I like to have a very personal relationship with everyone on the team.”

Wright was chosen from a field of more than 100 applicants. He brings a background in operations and experience at a similarly sized New Hampshire hospital, but stood out largely for his communication skills, said Sherwood Moody, the Valley Regional trustee who led the search committee for Bowen’s replacement.

Valley Regional needed someone who would tell the community about all the services the hospital offers, Moody said. Claremont residents have many nearby options on where they can seek health care, with five hospitals within a 30 minute drive. Valley Regional wants residents to understand which services they can receive in town before seeking treatment elsewhere.

“We have to do a good job of communicating to residents that Valley Regional has multiple areas of service that can take care of their needs without having to go outside of the community to get those needs taken care of,” Moody said.

Cuts to federal programs such as Medicaid and Medicare, as well as larger questions about creating a more efficient health care system in the nation, make this a challenging time for small hospitals as they compete for a shrinking pool of resources. Many health reformers, including Dartmouth-Hitchcock CEO Jim Weinstein, have argued for greater cooperation among the region’s health care providers as a way to eliminate redundancy and lower costs.

The new relationship between Valley Regional and Dartmouth-Hitchcock is similar with agreements the Lebanon hospital has with New London Hospital and Mt. Ascutney Hospital in Windsor. Such arrangements give smaller hospitals access to the resources of a larger health care provider while furthering Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s goal of taking a coordinated regional approach to care, hospital officials said.

It ties into the concept of “population health care” promoted at Dartmouth, said Stephen LeBlanc, who helps establish relationships with other providers as an executive vice president at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

The term “population health” refers to an approach by providers to improve the health of an entire group of people. It steps beyond the traditional focus on individual patients and looks at a variety of factors affecting the well being of people in a particular region or demographic group, including social issues and the environment.

Taking a broad population-based approach is one reason why strengthening ties with institutions such as Valley Regional is important, LeBlanc said.

“Dartmouth-Hithcock doesn’t take care of the population itself,” LeBlanc said in an interview several weeks ago. “It takes care of it with other providers. What we are trying to figure out is how do we coordinate that better with the end goal of lowering costs, better outcomes.”

The relationship with Dartmouth-Hitchcock was part of what attracted Wright to Valley Regional. The Twin State’s largest health care provider has been a national leader in reform through initiatives such as accountable care organizations, in which hospitals work together to find ways of coordinating patient care and lowering costs. Given Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s importance to the region, for Valley Regional “it’s much better to have a seat at the table than be staring over the fence,” Wright said.

“Whether with an accountable care organization or being more efficient, bending the cost curve, Dartmouth-Hitchcock is going to be a tremendous resource,” he said.

Valley Regional would not release details of Wright’s salary, saying only that it was “based on the broad responsibilities of the position, the CEO’s experience in the field, and the market rates paid to other CEOs at comparable institutions,” according to a statement released yesterday.

Bowen, the person Wright is replacing, earned $302,095 in total compensation in 2010, according to the latest federal 990 tax filing available. She had been with Valley Regional for 13 years.

Littleton Hospital has not yet found a replacement for Wright, but would be starting a search soon, said Warren West, Littleton’s CEO.

West has worked with Wright for 11 years, first at Copley and then at Littleton. He congratulated Wright on his new position and felt he would serve Valley Regional well.

“Peter is energetic. He’s capable. He is smart,” West said. “He’ll do a great job.”

Chris Fleisher can be reached at 603-727-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.