Former Dartmouth-Hitchcock leader Nancy Formella dies

  • Nancy Formella, co-president of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, is seen at the hospital in Lebanon, N.H., on July 17, 2007. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News file photograph — James M. Patterson

  • Nancy Formella (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/17/2020 10:06:02 PM
Modified: 1/17/2020 11:05:45 PM

LEBANON — Nancy Formella, a registered nurse who became Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s first female chief executive, died Thursday after a short battle with brain cancer. She was 66.

In interviews on Friday, friends and former colleagues remembered Formella, who served as senior nurse executive at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon before becoming a co-president in 2006, as a warm person who took a team approach to leadership.

“I don’t know anyone who didn’t respect and admire Nancy,” said Frank McDougall, the former vice president of government relations at D-H. “You could talk budgets with Nancy and she’d cut yours and you’d thank her at the end.”

As a D-H co-president alongside Dr. Thomas Colacchio and Dr. Jim Weinstein, Formella helped to create Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, which started with the Lebanon-based medical center and southern New Hampshire group practices and has since grown to include four other hospitals and a visiting nursing agency. Though an attempt during her tenure to merge D-H with Manchester’s Catholic Medical Center failed, a new version of the partnership is now pending regulatory approval.

McDougall credited Formella for building relationships with competitors as well as partners.

Jim Varnum, who preceded Formella as D-H president, said she brought her “warm personality” and ability to develop relationships to her leadership role.

In health care, he said, there are “a lot of interests that have to be thought about and represented.”

Formella had the “skill to keep those conversations going,” Varnum said.

In a Friday message to D-H staff, current CEO Joanne Conroy said that Formella’s values, which included relationships, conviction, courage, compassion, and community, remain central to the organization’s philosophy.

“Nancy would often tell her team, ‘It’s not what happens, it’s how we respond,’ ” Conroy wrote. “These pillars lead to developing a strong network of regional care, and she worked across Dartmouth-Hitchcock on a number of initiatives aimed at improving patient care and outcomes, which remain at the core of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s mission to this day.”

In a 2012 news release announcing that Formella had joined the board of the Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains, she credited the Scouts with teaching her skills she used in her career.

“I often recognize that the complex issues I deal with in my leadership work are not, at their core, too dissimilar from the issues I learned to resolve as a Girl Scout,” she said.

While at D-H, Formella also worked with community members outside of the hospital. Roberta Berner, former executive director of the Grafton County Senior Citizens Council, credited Formella with helping to reshape the hospital’s approach to addressing the needs of seniors.

“She was a huge advocate,” Berner said, noting that Formella spoke at one of the organization’s annual meetings.

Before coming to Lebanon, Formella served as a national clinical consultant and spent nearly 15 years in the Mayo health system in Minnesota and Florida. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa and a master’s degree from Marquette University in Wisconsin.

As D-H’s top nurse from 1999 to 2006, Formella restructured the nursing division, ensured that nurses had a way to participate in creating changes through a shared governance model, and earned a designation as a magnet organization for nursing excellence from the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

“Having worked with Nancy for many years at DHMC, I can say without reservation that Nancy was a brilliant nurse leader,” said Dianne Miller, who Formella hired to manage a regional nursing project and who is still at D-H, in a Friday email.

“She possessed a keen sense of humor and was always kind and thoughtful,” Miller wrote. “She was very dedicated to the staff at DHMC, and I am proud to have worked with her and for her. She will be so very missed by the many people whose hearts she touched.”

Steve Ahnen, president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said in an emailed statement Friday that Formella, who was a former chairwoman of the association, left a mark.

“Her legacy and contributions to the healthcare field, which continue to inspire so many, will be truly missed, and our heartfelt condolences go out to all who knew and worked with her, but most importantly to her family,” Ahnen wrote.

Formella’s tenure at D-H was not without challenges. Budget issues, at least partly due to state cuts to Medicaid and the 2008 recession, resulted in layoffs and belt-tightening. Some D-H employees raised their eyebrows when they learned that Formella got a 13% raise in her total compensation in 2009 — bringing it to $784,594 — when most other employees’ raises were deferred to make up for investment losses.

But some Valley News letter writers came to her defense. Dr. Julie Fago, then an associate professor of internal medicine at Dartmouth Medical School — now Geisel School of Medicine — who had worked with Formella on several geriatric initiatives, said she found Formella to “demonstrate effective collaboration, vision, dedication and the skills to get things done.”

Formella, who lived for years with her family in Hanover, was not one to draw attention to herself, said Berner.

In water aerobics classes at the CCBA in Lebanon, Berner said, Formella “was just kind of in the back of the class and doing her thing.”

Formella left the co-president post in 2011, when the board of trustees reconfigured D-H’s leadership structure, moving to a single CEO. She served as executive adviser to the D-H board of trustees for a year before taking the position as chief operating officer of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, a post she held until 2017, according to her LinkedIn profile. She then started NAFormella, an executive mentoring and coaching consulting firm based in East Kingston, N.H.

She also received her doctorate of nursing practice at Viterbo University in October. She is survived by her husband, John, and two sons, John and Paul.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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