Bill Walczak | G force

The cure is close to home

(Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
February 28, 2011

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Q. Was it hard to leave Codman after so many years at the helm?

A. Extremely difficult. I had to think about it long and hard. I felt like this was an opportunity to do something different at this part of my life. It’s great to leave [Codman Square] in great shape with great leadership and assets in the bank, and lots of positive things going on and national and even international reputation for innovation.

Q. Though you’re moving from a smaller institution to a larger one, you’re going from Codman Square, which has $20 million in the bank, to Carney, which was just rescued along with its five sister Caritas Christi hospitals by an out-of-town equity firm.

A. The Carney Hospital is a worthy challenge. It’s the largest employer in Dorchester with 1,155 employees. It’s an important institution.

Q. What went wrong there, why is it in such rough shape?

A. Carney wound up as part of a system that was tremendously undercapitalized for an entire generation. [Now], Carney Hospital all of a sudden has access to resources, and needs leadership to make the moves that will reconnect it to its community and reestablish it as the preeminent institution that it was until about 20 years ago.

Q. You’ve said that Carney and other community hospitals can be part of the solution to the nation’s health care crisis. What do you mean by that?

A. One of the major problems, if not the major problem, in our country today is the cost of health care. The reemergence of the community hospital system is one of the solutions for dealing with the cost of health care.

Q. What should health care look like?

A. It should look like what the Carney Hospital did in the 1980s. Number one, our medical system needs to become a health care system. We need to move away from the notion of just providing units of service and thinking about the whole patient. The whole patient begins in primary care, in caring doctors who make sure that a patient has a place that is coordinating care from the get-go. In strong connections between the primary care doctors and community hospitals, and strong connections between community hospitals and tertiary care, so a patient doesn’t get lost.

Q. That coordination among primary care, community hospitals, and big, downtown hospitals is crucial?

A. If there’s not good coordination, bad things can happen to patients. It’s really bad for that patient, but it also costs the system an enormous amount of money.

Q. Have we been overusing the big, downtown hospitals?

A. People use the big tertiary hospitals because the technology is impressive. There are things called gamma knives that astonish me, but most people don’t need that, thank God. Most people need good care, a good caring doctor, a procedure that works and excellent follow-up. Most of those things can happen in a community hospital at much less cost.

Q. Some people in Dorchester were shocked that you would leave Codman, but relieved that you didn’t go far.

A. Dorchester’s a wonderful, wonderful place. It’s filled with people who are striving to do better, to make something of themselves, to help their communities. That’s been inspirational to me for my whole life, and one of the reasons I’m so devoted to this community. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.


Interview was edited and condensed. Karen Weintraub can be reached at

Bill Walczak
After devoting 36 years of his life to the Codman Square Health Center, Walczak started a new job in mid-February, running Carney Hospital, also in Dorchester.