By Richard Gaines
---- — Retired physician John Wolfe, a champion of local hospital services and advocate for a secure Addison Gilbert Hospital in the face of the growing corporatization after its merger with Northeast Health Systems in 1994, died suddenly at his home Wednesday in West Gloucester. He was 71.
A decade ago, Wolfe led an insurgency of doctors against the the leadership of Northeast Health System’s board — and especially its controversial chief executive officer, Stephen Laverty — helping to expose policies that were stripping services to Beverly Hospital as part of a grand plan to create a regional medical system strong enough to survive against the challenge from Partners Health System, the Boston-based giant centered on Massachusetts General Hospital.
With Salem Hospital to the south and Wolfe’s Cape Ann Medical Center to the north, Beverely-based Northeast seemed on a track to reduce AGH to a shell when the Cape Ann Community arose in organized resistance.
A former chairman of the Gloucester Board of Health, Wolfe insisted that Cape Ann needed to have a secure full service hospital in Addison Gilbert.
He became Laverty’s nemesis almost from the onset of his tumultuous tenure at the head of Northeast which “merged” with AGH in the 1994.
Wolfe was soft-spoken but outspoken in his contempt for Laverty before he was allowed to resign in 2009 following an investigation by the state Department of Public Health into his unauthorized witnessing of women’s surgeries at Beverly Hospital.
After his retirement from practicing with Cape Ann Medical Center in 2009, Wolfe wrote to the Times on Sept. 10, 2010, after reading a Times story the previous day that the Northeast granted Laverty a $1 million “golden” parachute, “allegedly because there was no cause for firing him.
”I would say,” Wolfe wrote, that “the Northeast board had cause not to hire him in the first place, and long before 2009 certainly had cause to fire him.”
If Laverty was the moving force, the policies undertaken on his watch were Wolfe’s primary target. After Sen. Bruce Tarr and then Mayor John Bell, Wolfe form the ad hoc Task Force for the Preservation of Addison Gilbert Hospital in 2003, Wolfe provided expertise and inside information into behind-the-scenes machinations by Laverty and his board that Tarr said essential in the task force’s successful effort to become a political force requesting and at times demanding answers from Northeast’s leadership.
Playing the role of counterweight to Northeast’s autocracy, the task force produced documents and drawing on community expertise made a continuous study into the secretive actions that over time made AGH weaker and Beverly Hospital stronger.acto legislative oversight body and counterweight to Northeast’s autocracy.
As a leader of Cape Ann Medical Center, which was associated with Partners Health System, as well as a member of the Northeast medical staff, Wolfe was in a pivotal position. Laverty was hired to forge a moderately-sized regional health system based in Beverly that was confronted on all sides by the power of Partners Health System.
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Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.