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Cambridge Health Alliance CEO will retire after 4 decades in health care

Patrick Wardell, chief executive officer of Cambridge Health Alliance. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The chief executive of Cambridge Health Alliance, Patrick Wardell, said Tuesday that he will retire this summer after more than 40 years of working in health care.

Wardell announced his departure as Cambridge Health Alliance investigates the tragic death of Laura Levis, a 34-year-old woman who had an asthma attack and collapsed outside its hospital in Somerville in 2016. Levis had tried to go to the emergency room, but the door she found was locked.

Hospital officials have apologized for their role in the event, and Wardell, 66, made note of it in a message he sent to employees Tuesday. Cambridge Health Alliance has hired the law firm Foley Hoag LLP to review the circumstances of Levis’s death and identify opportunities for improvement.


“I will continue as CEO through June and intend to lead us through the response to the Laura Levis tragedy, including the implementation of any recommendations by the appointed Board Special Committee,” said Wardell, who has led CHA for seven years.

“I believe CHA will be a stronger organization as a result of this process.”

Cambridge Health Alliance is a safety net provider that serves a large population of low-income patients. In addition to Somerville Hospital, it runs Cambridge Hospital and Everett Hospital. In coming weeks, the organization’s board will begin the process for naming a new CEO, Wardell said.

Levis walked to Somerville Hospital early one morning in September 2016 when she felt symptoms of an asthma attack. When she found the locked hospital door, she called 911 and pleaded for help. A nurse looked for her, briefly, but she didn’t spot Levis in the dark.

Levis had collapsed by the time first responders located her. She spent several days in intensive care at Cambridge Hospital before she died.

Levis’s husband, Peter DeMarco, detailed her story in The Boston Globe magazine last November. After the piece ran, Wardell and other top hospital officials apologized to DeMarco in a somber meeting at the Globe’s offices. “I take personal responsibility for this,” Wardell said at the time.


DeMarco said he’s glad the CEO will stay in his job until the end of the review of Levis’s death. “I certainly hope he remains committed to honoring her memory by sharing whatever lessons are learned from the review with as many other hospitals as possible,” DeMarco said. “I think he owes at least that much to Laura, and to our families.”

DeMarco is also pushing legislation on Beacon Hill. One measure, called Laura’s Law, would require the Department of Public Health to write rules requiring hospitals to ensure safe access to their emergency departments. The other bill would remove the limit on how much money people can recover in lawsuits against public and nonprofit hospitals in particularly serious cases.

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey can be reached at priyanka.mccluskey @globe.com.