Marisa Peryer

Amid its attempts to acquire three Prospect medical hospitals and recent backlash following its decision to shut down one of its daycare facilities, the Yale New Haven Health system announced last week that Katherine Heilpern would be the new president of Yale New Haven Hospital. 

Heilpern is the former chief operating officer of the Weill Cornell Division at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and worked for 12 years as chair of the department of emergency medicine at Emory University School of Medicine. She will assume the position at Yale New Haven Hospital, the system’s flagship facility, on March 11. On Tuesday, the YNHH system announced that it will promote Pamela Sutton-Wallace SPH ’97, who previously served as interim president of YNHH, to president of the entire system. 

“I’ve had leadership positions that have served on both sides of the academic healthcare coin,” Heilpern said. “Having practiced emergency medicine for about 28 years, [this] gives me the opportunity to really understand life at the frontline, and the care that’s being delivered by the providers and how it feels on the side of patients and families.” 

Prior to Wallace’s interim appointment in 2023, Keith Churchwell was president of the hospital. Before Churchwell, Richard D’Aquila served as both the president of the hospital and for the entire YNHH system for nearly 15 years. 

For Arjun Venkatesh, chair of emergency medicine at the hospital, Heilpern’s appointment represents an important transition in YNHH’s leadership. Heilpern will be one of the few women running a hospital of YNHH’s size — the hospital is one of the largest in the United States. 

“There are not many women who lead hospitals among that top 10 or 20 list,” Venkatesh said, referring to specifically large hospitals. 

Heilpern will assume the role amid many ongoing developments at YNHH. Last week, the News reported on parents’ disapproval of YNHH’s plans to close one of its daycare locations in order to cut costs. 

Last fall, the YNHH system signed a preliminary agreement to acquire three hospitals from Prospect Medical Holdings — Manchester Memorial, Rockville General and Waterbury Health, which has prompted concerns about the system’s expansion, as the Connecticut healthcare giant’s expanding reach could decrease competition and increase patient costs. Amid such concerns, the deal has stalled.

Heilpern said that she is unaware of the charged response to the daycare closures and regards the acquisitions as beyond her role as YNHH president. 

Nevertheless, many YNHH officers expressed optimism about Heilpern and her new position. According to Venkatesh, many medical workers believe Heilpern’s history as an emergency physician will bring an important perspective. 

Venkatesh noted that many hospital presidents do not have a clinical background. However, he said that physician presidents could offer a more well-rounded perspective when determining how to best serve patients.

“I believe that physician-literate leaders can bring their clinical experience and lens of taking care of patients to [the] business leadership and organizational leadership skills you need to be … president of the hospital,” Venkatesh said.

Alan Friedman, the chief medical officer at YNHH, works closely alongside Ena Williams, the chief nursing officer at YNHH, and the president to improve patient care. For Friedman, the new YNHH president’s background could enhance patients’ experiences. 

“Having a president who is so clinically attuned to the day-to-day operations in the critical need to provide high quality, safe care to each and every patient in the most equitable ways, is what we seek to do,” Friedman said. 

Venkatesh also specifically highlighted that Heilpern’s perspective as a physician could help the hospital solve overcrowded hospitals. Her experience in emergency medicine may also help her tackle the wide range of issues in the healthcare system. 

“If you look anywhere in the news today, you’ll see hospitals crumbling,” Venkatesh said. “Having a president who has experience, with the full lens of hospitals and how they operate, and experience working in those kinds of capacity issues is  good for both the hospital and the community.”

In an interview with the News, Heilpern said that her goal is to deliver more accessible and convenient care to patients, especially to develop an efficient care continuum — from a pre-hospital setting, to the hospital and back home again.   

Heilpern also described her goal to deliver quality care through, “the force multiplier,” a collaboration between the School of Medicine, the School of Public Health and the School of Nursing.

“There aren’t too many places in the country, for that matter, in the world, that can pull together the talent that exists in the system, and in the schools,” Heilpern said. 

Yale New Haven Hospital employs over 5000 medical personnel and almost 15,000 staff members.

Erin Hu covers the Yale-New Haven Health System for the SciTech desk. Originally from Brookfield, Wisconsin, she is a first-year in Branford College majoring in neuroscience and global affairs.