All in the Family: Hiring of noted doctor seen as Carney coup

It’s far too early to know if Dorchester’s one-and-only hospital can survive and thrive under the for-profit model of its new owners, Steward Health Care Systems. But for those seeking a reliable indicator that Carney Hospital is moving in the right direction, a key appointment announced in January is a positive sign.

Dr. Glennon O’Grady, a New York native who has focused his career around a family-medicine practice, first in Lawrence and then in Boston, has been hired to head up Carney’s Family Medicine department.

The hire was a surprise, in part, because Carney — in recent years — has not had a Family Medicine department. But the recruitment of O’Grady also spoke loudly about the persuasive powers of Carney’s current president, Bill Walczak, the pioneering health center guru from Savin Hill who was brought in last year to send a loud-and-clear message about the intent of Carney’s new owners.

“Glenn O’Grady is a true building block for Carney,” says Walczak, who first met the physician when they both went on a mission to Kosovo in the early 1990s. “He’s a proven leader with a great vision for primary care. And he’s committed to building not only this department, but also a full-fledged residency program that will really help Carney re-connect with the community health center system in Dorchester.”

O’Grady, a North Andover resident, was lured away from Lawrence General Hospital, where as a vice president he was credited with building a 22-person team that supervised around-the-clock coverage of the hospital’s adult inpatients. Prior to his stint at the hospital, O’Grady served as medical director at the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center and, earlier, as vice chairman for clinical affairs for the Department of Family Medicine at Boston Medical Center.

A Holy Cross and Tufts Medical School graduate, O’Grady launched his career in 1994, when only a handful of his peers would even consider specializing in family medicine. At the time, out of roughly 3,600 residents in the state, only 48 were on track to go into that field, leaving a “huge vacuum” in the primary care field, O’Grady recalls.

Today, the gap has only improved modestly, with some 130 practitioners of family medicine statewide.

O’Grady said he and Walczak share a vision that “family medicine is the way to go” in a community hospital setting. The two have worked collaboratively before to set up a family medicine residency in Codman Square, at the health center that Walczak ran and helped to found in the 1970s.

“I was surprised that there wasn’t a department here yet,” O’Grady said. “Given the demographic changes in Dorchester, with so many young families here, we want to make sure we can provide that lifelong care from pre-natal to end of life.”

Critically, O’Grady believes that one element of establishing a sustainable Family Medicine department at Carney will be to open a maternity ward, something that Carney has never had in its history here in Dorchester. O’Grady, who has delivered some 1,000 babies in his career so far, says it “makes sense that we be able to do that here” given the rate-per-year of live births in Dorchester and Mattapan.

Walczak calls O’Grady’s hire “a major score” for the Carney, one that has already led a new family medicine doctor to join the staff: Dr. Minh Nguyen, formerly a principal at St. Ambrose School in Fields Corner, who will bring a strong Vietnamese-American client base along with him.

According to Walczak, Dr. Nguyen said that a critical factor in his joining the Carney staff is O’Grady’s reputation as a leader in family medicine. “I asked [Dr. Nguyen], ‘How did you find us?’ And he said, ‘Dr. O’Grady is a legend!’ We’ve actually had about ten doctors approach us already because they want to work with him. Glenn is really a magnet for those who see the potential of family medicine.”

O’Grady has his work cut out for him. He has just two other family medicine doctors on staff at Carney right now, though more, like Dr. Nguyen, will be on the way by summertime.

“I think that there really is a need and an opportunity to be the hospital for the Dorchester community,” O’Grady said. “I think Carney can be a great hospital again and under Bill’s leadership it will be a great place for family medicine physicians to be trained.”