Southcoast Health President and CEO Keith A. Hovan stepped down from his governor-appointed position on the Massachusetts Public Health Council effective immediately, according to a state Department of Public Health spokesperson.

The spokesperson said Hovan informed the council he was stepping down on Friday, the same day that he and the Southcoast Health board of trustees announced he was taking an immediate leave of absence from Southcoast Health, which will be a paid leave. 

Hovan was appointed to the state health council by Gov. Charlie Baker in April of 2019 for a six-year term as a representative of an “acute care health services provider.” The council advises the state commissioner of public health and the department on “major policy decisions,” and promulgates regulations.

The council meets once a month, and Hovan was reportedly not present during the recent Nov. 10 meeting. The council consists of 14 members, 12 of whom are appointed by the governor.

Hovan also co-chaired Baker’s health care transition team in 2014, according to Southcoast Health. The team worked on the “development of priority action items related to healthcare” in the state and for Baker’s administration.

Asked whether the state Public Health Council leadership had any comment, a state spokesperson said the confirmation of Hovan stepping down is “as much as anyone has to say.”

Hovan, 59, was arrested on Nov. 6 and charged with domestic assault and battery of his wife. He is facing a potential second charge for alleged possession of illegal ammunition. 

“These past few days have been difficult for you and all the people whom I love and care about. The allegation has caused an unfair distraction to you all,” Hovan wrote in a statement to the Southcoast Health community. “There is nothing more important to me than my family. Please know that the pride, gratitude and awe I feel in leading such an incredible group of dedicated and talented employees is a very close second.” 

Dr. Rayford Kruger, the chief physician executive for Southcoast Physicians Group, will lead Southcoast Health during Hovan’s leave.

Opposition has continued despite Hovan’s “stepping back” — either temporarily or permanently — from leadership roles.

A former Southcoast Health anesthesiologist and chairman of anesthesia on Monday submitted a complaint to the state Attorney General’s office and last week started an online petition to fully remove Hovan from his position. As of Monday evening, the petition received more than 500 signatures and dozens of comments. 

Its creator, Dr. Jim O’Rourke, who has been an outspoken critic of Hovan dating back to a change in anesthesia provider for the hospitals, said he is the first person to recognize people may see him as a biased source with an ax to grind against Hovan.

He said his dislike for Hovan as a person and his concern for the state of the health system under Hovan’s leadership can coexist. 

“Yeah, I don’t like him. But also, he should be immediately dismissed,” said O’Rourke, who now practices with Beth Israel Deaconess-Plymouth. 

In his complaint to the state, O’Rourke mentioned Hovan’s alleged domestic assault against his wife, the potential charge for illegal ammunition, and the revocation of Hovan’s license to carry firearms.

The state Attorney General’s office has a nonprofit organization and public charity division that is responsible for overseeing state public charities, investigating allegations and initiating enforcement actions “in cases of breach of fiduciary duty.”

“The nature of my complaint is the action of Hovan’s board of trustees,” O’Rourke wrote. “Many in the medical community and community at large are concerned that the Board of Trustees is not fulfilling fiduciary and oversight duties. Mr. Hovan should be immediately dismissed from his leadership position at our nonprofit community health care system.”

O’Rourke received a general confirmation email that the complaint was recorded by the division. 

The trustees wrote on Friday that the past few days “have been difficult” and that they will continue to refrain from comment until the matter is adjudicated. 

The board of trustees is made up of 17 members including Hovan: Dr. Salman Bashir, Louis A. Cabral, James J. Coogan, Dr. Ilana Feinerman, Dennis J. Fusco, Donald G. Giumetti, Christopher M. Hodgson, Helena DaSilva Hughes, Elizabeth Huidekoper, Heidi Kostin, W. Hugh M. Morton, Jonathan Rounds, Jason Rua, Dr. Jay Schachne, Carmen Sylvester, and Dr. James Witkowski.

“Nothing is more important than our patients, our community, our physicians and our staff,” the trustees wrote. “We are still living through a global public health emergency, and we must all remain singularly focused on delivering the exceptional care that is our bond with our community.” 

Before Hovan announced his leave, domestic violence survivors decried the trustees’ characterization that the incident is a “personal matter.” They said it sends a bad message to survivors of domestic violence that such behavior would result in a “slap on the wrist.”

COMMUNITY VOICES: Read commentary on Keith Hovan’s arrest and Southcoast Health’s board of trustees.

Mariana Silva-Buck, the vice president of development and education at New Hope, a nonprofit serving those affected by domestic and sexual violence, said Hovan as the leader of a healthcare system should be aware of domestic violence more than anyone else.

As of Monday, Hovan was still a member of the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association Board of Trustees, according to a spokesperson, who said he served on the board from 2010 through 2019, and from January 2021 to present day. 

Email Anastasia Lennon at alennon@newbedfordlight.org.

Sign up for free

Our free newsletter will drop into your inbox weekday mornings, giving you all the highlights of our in-depth news stories and community arts and culture coverage.

SUPPORT OUR WORK TODAY

As an independent, nonprofit news outlet we are reliant on reader support to help fund the kind of in-depth journalism that keeps the public informed and holds the powerful accountable. Thank you for your support.

Thank you to our sponsors

Irwin and Joan Jacobs, Founding Benefactors