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At 8 a.m. on a September morning, David Longworth, MD, had already been on a conference call about COVID-19. At 8:30, he had a scheduled meeting with 20 senior staff via Zoom. In the half-hour between, Dr. Longworth took time to chat about his life and his dual work roles—chair of Beth Israel Lahey Health Primary Care and president of Lahey Hospital & Medical Center—which add up to a workweek of 70-75 hours. 

The native of Akron, Ohio, also takes time to relish the other side of life—relaxing with his family, reading, and taking frequent walks in his Burlington neighborhood. His enormous work goals and accomplishments don’t run on brittle, high-octane stress; Dr. Longworth is supremely down to earth, speaking modestly and thoughtfully about his vital work in the North Shore community. 

Balancing his two positions starts with carefully building his teams, he says: “For me, it’s all about the team. My main role is to build and balance teams of great leaders, teams that help get the work done and drive the work. Without them I certainly couldn’t do these two very large jobs.”

Courtesy of Lahey Hospital & Medical Center

Before joining the staff of his parent company, Beth Israel Lahey Health, Dr. Longworth spent 16 years practicing medicine in the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Cleveland Clinic, including a stint as department chair. Near the beginning of his career, in the 1980s, he treated one of the first AIDS patients, as a senior resident at a San Francisco hospital.

Now, another frightening new disease, COVID-19, is taking much of his attention. Changes came quickly at Lahey late last winter: in patient care, caring for caregivers, and allocation of resources, among other issues. As is the case with most of the country’s healthcare institutions, operating amid the pandemic—his two institutions have a combined budget of just over $5.6 billion—has been “a major financial stretch.” 

At the heart of it, Dr. Longworth says, is delivering the highest quality care for patients amid the pandemic. “Quality and safety are our north star. We will not lose sight of that in the coming year.” 

Our region, he says, has done relatively very well in the pandemic. “As the pandemic evolved, we had questions about bed capacity and ventilator supply. That turned out not to be an issue. We managed the surge and the time since quite well, with masks, social distancing, and the right practices. Our cases are relatively low in the Commonwealth. The country, perhaps, has done not so well.” 

Despite the optimism in the media, Dr. Longworth believes a return to normalcy is going to take awhile. “It takes time to show vaccines are effective, and time to ramp up production and convince the population that the vaccines are safe.” It may be close to another year, he says, or longer. “We’re remaining very vigilant.”

Courtesy of Lahey Hospital & Medical Center

He mulls how the pandemic has brought reflection. “I’m very privileged to do this work. I find myself at a momentous time in healthcare that we haven’t seen in over 100 years.” 

When he gets home, he focuses on family and relaxation. “I manage to spend a bit of time in the evening doing something fairly outside of medicine,” he says. “I try to take a bit of a walk most evenings.” His wife, Jo-Ann Davis, is a healthcare professional in western Massachusetts; the two have homes in Burlington and West Springfield. Two of their four children have become physicians. “I’m very proud of them all,” Dr. Longworth says.

Books are a special gateway to relaxation for him. These days he is rereading one of his favorites, A River Runs Through It. It was the first novel by the late author Norman Maclean, which Maclean wrote when he was in his 70s. “It’s not only a beautiful novel, but an inspiration,” Dr. Longworth, 67, says. “It’s never too late to take up a new adventure and passion.” 

He also paused to reflect on what comprises good leadership today. “It’s all about integrity,” Dr. Longworth says. “It’s not about you; it’s about other people. Work hard and be honest, transparent, and careful about keeping your word. Fundamentally it’s about being a serving leader.” 

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