LincolnHealth President and Chief Executive Officer James Donovan retired March 30. Donovan came to LincolnHealth, formerly Lincoln Medical Partners, in 2008 from over 20 years of healthcare leadership in Maine and over 30 years in Missouri and Pennsylvania. He oversaw the merger of Miles Memorial Hospital and St. Andrews Hospital.
Donovan said he considers his greatest success to be overseeing LincolnHealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 13 months. Reluctant to take any credit for himself, he credited a team of healthcare professionals he led. He said they were quick to respond to sudden changes. “It’s the way they pulled together and responded to our community … It's the amazing teamwork of everyone involved, always keeping their eye on the best interests of our patients and our community while taking the best advice from the experts … And all this was done on the fly. From where I sat, it almost happened overnight.”
Wiscasset lawyer Bill Logan served on the LincolnHealth board of trustees from 2008 to 2017. Logan said Donovan is known for taking on immense responsibility and trying to squirm out of the recognition or credit that comes with success.
“He's a quiet steady guy, a team player and he doesn't get out in front too far … He doesn't need to call attention to himself, he doesn't need to take credit … It's like in football, as long as the ball gets pushed down the gridiron, he's happy.”
Donovan said he also considers the LincolnHealth merger to be among his greatest achievements despite its controversy at the time. The move to make St. Andrews an inpatient daytime-only urgent care center was a hard decision long deliberated among hospital leadership and the trustees. However, it was the right decision in the end, said Donovan. It was driven by quality of patient care and long-held concerns that resulted from declining volume over a long time.
Moving care from the inpatient to outpatient setting is becoming more common in healthcare, said Donovan. That drove the changes at St. Andrews Urgent Care since the 1980s and was the deciding factor to join the MaineHealth system in the late 1990s, he said.
“I believe what we were able to accomplish was incredibly important ensuring that necessary care for residents in that region is going to be there for the long term. That's what we have to accomplish across all our smaller communities, really ensuring that primary care services which are the backbone of LincolnHealth are strong and remain strong.”
Pen Bay Medical Center President and former LincolnHealth board member Mark Fourré said Donovan has a “deferential-style” leadership almost exactly opposite from the Jack Welch or Lee Iacocca-types prevalent when he started taking on leadership roles in the 1980s.
“The deferential leader like Jim doesn't call attention to himself for things that go well, he attributes that success to those around him. That's just the sign of a really good leader.”
While it is sometimes hard to speak up, sometimes the hard part is not saying anything, Fourré recalled Donovan saying. However, staying silent is also a pillar of leadership when building a team of the best people one can find, Fourré said. “He's good at that. It’s intentional and it's effective and it's allowed the organization to be successful … He brought in very capable and experienced and committed board members and spent a lot of time seeking their guidance (and) I think he's put a lot of things in place that will allow the communities to remain healthy … The organization is in good hands and I think that's in large part due to his mentoring and succession planning which has been in process for years.”
Donovan said he is hopeful LincolnHealth has made a positive difference in its communities throughout his tenure and believes LincolnHealth will move forward just fine without him as a “culture of patients and community first.” Because his fondest memories will always be getting to know Lincoln County, he said as soon as he relinquishes his office to incoming President and CEO Cynthia Wade RN, he will be volunteering at the Lincoln County vaccine clinic at Boothbay Region YMCA.
Donovan said he and his wife have no plans to take on any small jobs, travel, or move away for part of the year. They will continue calling Lincoln County home, where they are near their three grandchildren and the Damariscotta River and surrounding lakes and ponds where Donovan enjoys fishing.
“The last 13 years of my career, here, have been the most fulfilling for me and also the most fun and it's because of the people I've worked with … (So) I don't have any interest whatsoever in spending too much time anyplace other than Maine even in the wintertime. I think I'll take the next several months to just kind of decompress and think about what I might like to do.”
While Donovan said he intends to fully embrace retirement, Logan is not convinced. “He's really ‘in it’ – connecting people and making sure (things) get done … He really cares about this place and he's really found a home here … He's not going to fish and mow the lawn forever. They'll give him something to do.”
Donovan reflected on what a friend once said when asked what he would do after retiring. “He said, 'I'll figure it out when I get there.' That's kind of the way I feel.”