Walsh comes to the role after a 13-year run as the head of Boston Medical Center — one of the longest serving hospital CEOs in the state. She ran not only the 514-bed Boston hospital that serves a large portion of patients on government insurance, but also WellSense Health Plan, formerly BMC HealthNet, which serves a large population of MassHealth patients.
“This is a critical moment for our state, as we continue to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, widening health disparities, skyrocketing healthcare costs and a devastating behavioral health crisis,” Walsh said in a statement. “Together, we will work to advance racial health equity, address affordability, spur innovative solutions to our health care challenges, and ensure that people live healthy lives.”
It was unclear who would take over for her at Boston Medical Center, and Walsh didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. The organization recently appointed Dr. Alastair Bell as president.
Walsh’s appointment places her at the helm of the state’s largest single department, which includes over 12 agencies, two soldiers’ homes, and the state’s Medicaid program. With a combined budget of more than $27 billion, the department accounts for over half of the state’s spending, touching on everything from children in protective custody to elder affairs.
Beyond her experience at Boston Medical Center, Walsh’s background includes a wide swath of the industry. She previously served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and held senior leadership positions at Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Massachusetts General Hospital, Montefiore Medical Center, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, Saint Luke’s – Roosevelt Hospital Center and the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation.
“This is an opportunity for Kate to realize a capstone and bring her career full circle, utilizing her skills from a long career in academic medicine, biotech, and running an essential hospital that serves a marginalized community to being the state’s top policy maker for health and human services and overseeing a system of care for those too often confronting inequity in care and services,” said Ellen Lutch Bender, a health care industry strategist in the Boston market. “Her appointment speaks legions to the Governor’s vision of health care correction going forward.”
Her biography on BMC’s website notes that she is currently a board member of the American Hospital Association, Boston Public Health Commission, Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, America’s Essential Hospitals, Pine Street Inn, and Yale University.
Walsh earned her bachelor’s degree and a Master of Public Health from Yale University.
“Kate Walsh is an embodiment of everything our healthcare system strives to be, and she is an outstanding choice by the Healey-Driscoll Administration to lead EOHHS at this critical time for patients and caregivers,” said Steve Walsh, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association. “Kate has always been more than just a hospital leader. She is a tireless community advocate, a health equity champion, and a consensus-builder for a complex sector entering a transformational time.”
That background will provide solid footing as the state continues to work with a health care sector still struggling in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, beset by staffing shortages and financial challenges.
Walsh’s appointment also comes at a busy time for HHS, as the state also recently launched a new “front door” to behavioral health services as part of its reform of mental health care.
The industry is also waiting on notice from the federal government as to when the federal public health emergency will expire, which will prompt MassHealth to begin verifying the eligibility of the millions of people using state insurance.
Additionally, the state is getting ready to implement a newly awarded waiver from the federal government. The waiver will allow MassHealth to continue the reforms it began five years ago, in which MassHealth sought to change the reimbursement structure for insurers and providers to increase the focus on quality and equity, and emphasize primary care and behavioral health care.
WellSense, the BMC insurer, won the majority of the contracts MassHealth recently negotiated as part of its Accountable Care Program, and Walsh will have to navigate providing reimbursements based on quality measures not only to her former insurer but to competing health insurers.
In her role as secretary, Walsh will also sit on the state’s Health Policy Commission, and will have to navigate her ties to the hospital industry with the organization’s stated desire of creating price caps for the highest-priced providers, as it seeks to constrain health care spending growth.
The appointment largely rounds out Healey’s cabinet, though a post for veterans services remained outstanding, as well as the new post of housing secretary, a position she had promised to create during her campaign.
Jessica Bartlett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ByJessBartlett.