When Joseph D. McDonald came to Buffalo 15 years ago, Catholic Health consisted of a collection of hospitals. He turned it into an integrated medical system.
As president and chief executive, the affable transplanted Tennessean oversaw the transformation of the hospitals into a $1.2 billion health care system.
McDonald, soon to be 65, recently announced plans to retire in the spring.
Being the head of a major health system is not easy, evidenced by the fact that most hospital chief executives leave after shorter terms. Kaleida Health, the largest competitor to Catholic Health, has had four CEOs since McDonald landed here.
He arrived in late 2002 as the third leader of the organization created in 1998 from the affiliation of Mercy, Sisters, Kenmore Mercy and St. Joseph hospitals. Since then Catholic Health has more than doubled its financial size, employing more than 9,000 workers and holding roughly 43 percent of the region’s market share.
McDonald has overseen 14 consecutive years of revenue growth, although earnings declined in 2015 and 2016, and $670 million in facility investments.
Under his watch, Catholic Health rebuilt emergency rooms, updated imaging and information systems, merged with Mount St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston and transformed Our Lady of Victory Hospital in Lackawanna into a senior community.
McDonald skillfully navigated the state Berger Commission’s hospital downsizing, fending off an effort to close St. Joseph Hospital. He enhanced Catholic Health’s relationship with Catholic Medical Partners, the group that represents hundreds of affiliated doctors, and brought labor peace after contentious contract negotiations.
His engaging personality allowed Catholic Health to work closely with Roswell Park Cancer Institute in oncology care and collaborate with Kaleida Health in other areas. But McDonald remains a proponent of competition, pointing out that “having at least two hospital systems” is good for the area.
McDonald has been an active board member of community organizations, and always understood his role as ensuring the long-term growth of Catholic Health. He will be a tough act to follow.