COVID, Transformations, and Loving Greenwich

Retiring Norman Roth reflects on six years as President & CEO of Greenwich Hospital

By Anne W. Semmes

Norman Roth steps down on October 2, as president and CEO of Greenwich Hospital, with Diane P. Kelly, formerly COO, already in place as his successor. Roth has one regret he expresses, “I wish the opportunity to come to Greenwich had come much earlier than it did in my career, because it is such an amazing place.”

Many in Greenwich feel the same respect for Roth that he has for the town. “Norman Roth is undoubtedly one of the finest professional healthcare executives in the entire system,” according to former State Senator Scott Frantz. “What Norman Roth has done with Greenwich Hospital over the years, especially during this very difficult time, is truly remarkable.” 

In his six years, first as COO, then president and CEO in 2015, Roth worked to transform the Hospital into what he describes as an academic-medical center facility with advanced services. He also shepherded it and its 1,850 employees in a peak time of COVID-19 crisis. “From April to today we’ve treated 700 COVID-19 positive patients,” he reports.

“We saw 86 employees contract the virus,” he tells. “Fortunately, all 86 wound up doing well. But they were out for a considerable period of time and in some cases their family members also contracted the disease.” 

Roth found the outpouring of community support for the employees of Greenwich Hospital throughout the COVID-19 crisis “amazing and unbelievable.” With that community support has come a $500,000 donation from the O’Malley Family Foundation, now the Hospital’s COVID-19 Employee Disaster Relief Fund. Those funds he says will “help support employees who have faced financial hardships as a result of the COVID crisis.”

“That half million dollars is an incredible amount,” he adds. He sees it as quite unique, having worked 41 years of his life for Yale New Haven Health (YNHH).

He cites the vital part that YNHH system played in this COVID-19 crisis. “Greenwich was really the epicenter in Connecticut early on as we were so close to New York. At our peak we had 126 COVID positive inpatients in Greenwich Hospital. And 28 were in the ICU level of care, and it really pushed us to the limit – our staff was amazing.” But more help was needed, so most welcomed were an additional 120 staff from YNHH member hospitals: Bridgeport, Yale New Haven, and Lawrence + Memorial.

“Yale-New Haven sent us ventilators, and started taking ICU patients, the sickest of the sick to help relieve some of the pressure on Greenwich. Because we’re part of a huge organization we had strong supplies [face masks, gowns, and shields] available throughout the COVID process. If we were just an independent 206-bed hospital we would have struggled with caring for patients. Of course, with all the wonderful, spectacular physicians we had in Greenwich they were able to talk with their colleagues across the entire YNH Health system for the best ways, the evolving ways to treat the patients.”

This is where Roth’s vision for Greenwich Hospital to be an academic-medical center facility with advanced services comes into focus. “Not on the same level as Yale New Haven Hospital,” he says, “but close, so that Greenwich and the surrounding communities can have access to the latest and best technologies, services, and Yale Medicine and faculty practicing at Greenwich.”

Hence the expansion of Greenwich Hospital to the 500 West Putnam site where, “We have significantly grown the cardiology there and all the cardiologists are integrated with Yale Medicine,” he says, with some Yale Medicine cardiologists practicing part-time in New Haven, and part time in Greenwich. And at 55 Holly Hill is found Yale Neurology and Yale Urology, and soon to have Yale Ophthalmology. 

For the Greenwich Hospital campus Roth had secured from YNHH a $160 million dollar “clinical growth plan” to include converting all Hospital rooms to be “100 percent private rooms,” now pushed forward to realizing in early 2022 due to COVID-19 delays. Already implemented is a pediatric emergency department program partnered with Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. “We now have young and infant children emergency Yale physicians working at Greenwich Hospital, and seeing the kids who come to the emergency department,” he says.

Perhaps the largest Roth footprint on the Hospital campus will be the proposed Smilow Cancer Center to be located across the street, on the corner of Lake Avenue and Lafayette. “Yale New Haven Health has committed $70 million to help build a new cancer center,” he shares, “and last week they reaffirmed that commitment.” Additional fund raising will be needed, but also P&Z approval. A continuation of the zoning discussion of the design of the Cancer Center has been pushed forward six months. 

“We were scheduled to open the Center in October of 2022 but now it will likely be the middle of 2023,” says a hopeful Roth. A more sizeable Smilow Cancer Center built at Yale New Haven that he presided over opened its doors in 2009.

Former First Selectman Peter Tesei had enjoyed working alongside Roth, he says, and seeing his ongoing efforts in expanding Greenwich Hospital on West Putnam as well as on Lake Avenue with the Cancer Center plan. Roth’s efforts were effectively, Tesei says, “providing care to a broader community including Westchester County.”

Roth is especially pleased to see a new service take root in the Hospital as a part of his clinical growth plan, to treat those with strokes. “Both my parents died of strokes,” he tells. “We’ve created the neurosciences program and recruited Dr. Akli Zetchi fulltime from the Yale Medicine Department of Neurosurgery who is able to do mechanical stroke thrombectomies making us one of the few places with that level of technology. And it’s truly lifesaving. Dr. Zetchi is able to insert a catheter and go up into your brain and grab the clot and pull the clot out, thereby restoring blood flow.”

Here, Roth points again to the generous Greenwich community for bringing support to that neuroscience program. “Within two years we were able to go from concept to implementation, with support from the Wallace Family Foundation in Greenwich, the Yale School of Medicine, and Yale New Haven Health.”

Over the years with YNHH Roth has seen the advantages the Health System provides. “What we are experiencing in Greenwich in growth is pretty unique because of the relationship between Greenwich Hospital and Yale New Haven Health.” He lists the five-plus hospitals that are now part of that Health system. “What it enables these hospitals as part of a large system is to reduce their overhead of running an independent hospital.”

Easy to see how Roth’s legacy might be found in that footprint he leaves behind. With the addition of a Smilow Cancer Center, and the conversion of the Hospital’s private rooms, he comes up with, “about 1,250,000 square feet of health care buildings.” But he favors a different legacy, his role in “strengthening the culture of Greenwich Hospital.” 

“Being the kind of leader that employees felt connected to,” he says, “has always been really important to me. Working with the Greenwich Hospital staff, the medical staff, and Board of Trustees has been an extraordinary high point. The culture is so strongly committed to patient care, of putting patients and families first in a strong healing atmosphere within the culture.” 

But he’d like to add, “What an incredible community Greenwich is. Its 63,000 residents – and I’ve gotten to know a fair number of them – are just the most caring, kind, supportive community I’ve ever seen. It’s a wonderful town.”