Congrats to Norm Deschene the Lowell Sun’s Man of the Year

We were so happy to see that our dear friend and board member Normand “Norm” E. Deschene was chosen as the Man of the Year by the Lowell Sun.

Christopher Scott of the Lowell Sun wrote that Norm “Is at the top of his game” and we couldn’t agree more.

Check out Scott’s article below if you haven’t seen it:

Man of the Year Deschene is at ‘the top of his game’By Christopher Scott, cscott@lowellsun.comLowell Sun¬†Updated:

LowellSun.com

 

LOWELL — It was April Fool’s Day 1984, and a young, impressionable Normand Deschene had just finished his first day of work at Lowell General Hospital. Back at the Pawtucketville apartment he shared with his wife, Joy, Deschene wasn’t laughing.

The Fall River native was bewildered, wondering why he left behind in Illinois a higher-paying hospital position with more responsibility for a job as vice president of professional services at a hospital that was a distant third in a three-hospital town.

“What did I get myself into?” Deschene, 58, recently recalled wondering. “The newest piece of medical equipment was 16 years old. The hospital didn’t even have a CAT-scan. I just shook my head.”

But Deschene’s career uncertainty didn’t keep him from envisioning the potential of the hilltop hospital on Varnum Avenue.

For nearly three decades, Deschene has been a signature change agent in improving Greater Lowell’s health-care delivery system, with Lowell General Hospital becoming a regional leader. In 2012, Deschene helped engineer LGH’s successful union with Saints Medical Center, ending years of competitive rivalry and board-room divisiveness that directly or indirectly spilled into the community at large.

But the merger is one thing. Few hospital executives can also boast of LGH’s other major achievements over the past year, all accomplished under Deschene’s leadership.

Deschene’s formidable record had earned him recognition as The Sun’s inaugural 2012 “Man of the Year.”

Over a three-month span last summer, from June 28 to Aug. 13, Lowell General:

-Opened a new, 31,000-square-foot, $10 million medical-offices building at 14 Research Place in Chelmsford.

-Officially acquired its longtime cross-town rival, Saints Medical Center, after months of negotiations.

-Opened the $95-million, 200,000 square-foot Dahoud Building on its Varnum Avenue campus. The eye-popping expansion includes a new emergency room, heli-pad, maternity unit, surgical units and state-of-the-art private rooms.

“There is no question Norm is on the top of his game,” said George Duncan, chairman of Lowell General’s board of trustees. “What has transpired at Lowell General Hospital over the last year — all of it on Norm’s watch — has profoundly changed the way health care is delivered in Greater Lowell.

“I can’t think of a more deserving recipient for such recognition,” added Duncan, the Enterprise Bank founder and board chairman.

Key strategic mission

Calling the acquisition of Saints an accomplishment is an understatement. Deschene was successful in doing something numerous other hospital executives had attempted through the years but were ultimately beaten back by a variety of factors.

Deschene believes strongly that if Saints had affiliated with Steward Health Care LLC, which it planned to do until Steward walked away from the deal in October 2011, the competitive “arms race” between the hospitals would have intensified, eventually forcing Lowell General to find its own wealthy affiliate.

Local ownership of the health-care delivery system and all that goes with it — access, accountability and affordability — would have been lost, he said.

Today, with Lowell General having left in the rear-view mirror the two hospitals that gave Deschene pause that day in 1984 — St. John’s and St. Joseph’s — LGH is solely focused on patient satisfaction through its “Complete Connected Care” philosophy. It’s an initiative designed to persuade patients to receive medical care at Lowell General rather than travel to a Boston tertiary hospital.

A pilot study by the state’s attorney general, authored more than a year ago, showed that Lowell General provided the same or better-quality care at a lower cost than did several of Boston’s leading, higher-cost hospitals with no significant difference in the medical outcomes.

When told about the “Man of Year” recognition last week, Deschene was grateful — and a bit uncomfortable.

“It’s not my accomplishment but the team’s,” said Deschene, as he sipped coffee from a foam cup in his office at the LGH/ Saints campus. “You’re only as good as your weakest link.”

‘The real Norm’

He heaped praise on his administrative team and all of Lowell General’s 3,500 employees, whom Deschene insists call him “Norm.”

His unpretentious side doesn’t surprise Joy, his wife of 38 years, whom Deschene met while buying 25 cents worth of gasoline from a Fall River station where Joy was the attendant.

“I’ve walked the corridors with him, and he knows everyone’s name, their family and what their kids are doing,” Joy Deschene said. “He’s a dedicated, devoted, passionate person who is always looking out for the other person. That’s the real Norm.”

The “real Norm” credits his father, also named Normand, for where he is today.

The elder Deschene died on Christmas 1983, following a life spent mostly working at a Fall River textile mill during the day and as a corrections officer at Walpole State Prison (now MCI Cedar Junction) at night.

Deschene, influenced by his father’s work ethic, pushed himself to get a college degree and a career. After graduating from Fall River High, he went to Providence College and earned a degree in health administration in 1976.

As the oldest of five boys, Deschene’s mother, Rolande, needed her son closer to home to serve as the family patriarch following her husband’s death. He obliged by returning to his hometown for work.

Despite his early trepidation, Deschene has fallen into a “love affair” with the region and the hospital he has helped shape.

“Everything certainly has seemed to fall into place nicely over the last year,” said Deschene, who lives in Groton.

He paused briefly before speaking again about the Saints acquisition, seemingly implying it was the greatest achievement.

“Right to my soul, I believed it was the right thing to do,” Deschene said. “The prospect of more competition, more spending, just wasn’t good for the community. I believed it right down to the core.”

In March 2011, when Saints announced it rejected a Lowell General offer to merge, Deschene went public with his “bewilderment” and “disappointment,” vowing to fight any effort by Saints to be acquired by an out-of-town, for-profit health-care company.

His honesty left him bloodied and bruised, an OK outcome for a man whose favorite quote comes from President Theodore Roosevelt. Deschene keeps copies in the top right-hand drawer of his desk. It reads, in part: ” … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming …”

Follow Scott on Twitter @cscottlowellsun.

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