NEW BEDFORD — Southcoast Health President and CEO Keith A. Hovan is taking a paid  leave of absence effective immediately, according to statements sent by the health system’s Board of Trustees and Hovan Friday afternoon.

Hovan, 59, was arrested Saturday 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.” 

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

“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.” 

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

According to a tax form for Southcoast Health, published by ProPublica, Hovan’s reported income for 2018 was nearly $2.7 million. Molly Horan, the media spokesperson for this matter, did not immediately respond to a request for Hovan’s most up-to-date compensation. 

Hovan wrote Southcoast Health “deserves a leader unencumbered by current personal matters to run what I believe to be the most exceptional health care system in the state.”

Domestic violence survivors had criticized the Board of Trustees’ initial response this week. Until Friday afternoon, Hovan was acting in his official role as president and CEO.

One survivor, Jennifer Blum, who founded an organization in Fairhaven to support other survivors, said the trustees’ initial response sent a bad message to survivors of domestic violence and could lead some to not come forward for fear of not being believed or heard. 

Reports state that officers responded to Hovan’s Rochester home late Saturday night after his daughter called 911 to report an alleged domestic assault involving Hovan and his wife. An officer who responded to the home noted Hovan was “covered in a liquid” that smelled like alcohol. The officer wrote that Hovan exited the front door stating “something along the lines of, ‘It was me, I did it, my arm hit her in the face.’”

One officer also reported seeing cuts with blood on Hovan’s forearm.

After entering the home, an officer attended to Hovan’s wife, spotting droplets of blood on clothing and a red mark on her face that later became a bruise. She told police an argument started over a television show, but became physical when she started writing in a journal, which Hovan then tried to grab, police reports state. One officer noted ripped paper on the ground. 

A police officer asked the daughter if her parents had argued in the past, to which she reportedly said yes. 

Hovan said the matter was unfortunate and “apologized for losing his temper,” police said. He also reportedly stated that his daughter “did the right thing for calling the police” and that he was proud of her.

Police removed 43 firearms — including semi-automatic rifles — and ammunition from the home as standard protocol following a domestic incident. Police also suspended his firearm license, which he could lose permanently. 

According to police, Hovan said he is a collector of firearms, that some are just for display and that he had about 5,000 rounds of ammunition. As of Friday, police concluded there were about 19,500 rounds. 

Raymond Raposa, treasurer for the Dartmouth-based Copicut Rifle Association and a certified NRA range safety officer, said he shoots about 3,000 rounds per year to practice for competition, and that some people like to have enough ammunition to last about three years in case there is a shortage.

Hovan is scheduled to appear again in Wareham District Court on Nov. 24 for a pretrial hearing for the domestic assault and battery charge. Sgt. Nathan Valente of the Rochester Police Department, as well as a court clerk, said no date has been scheduled for the possible second charge for alleged possession of illegal ammunition. Both said there will likely be a clerk magistrate hearing for the ammunition offense, which in Massachusetts is closed to the public. 

Valente said the hearing is regarding a possible lowering of the charge, given that Hovan was a licensed gun owner. The lesser charge is still a felony, he said, with a possible fine of $1,000 or a minimum of six months in prison. 

Hovan has served as president and CEO of Southcoast Hospitals Group, Inc. since 2008 and Southcoast Health System, Inc. since 2011. 

As of Friday, he was on the Board of Trustees for the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association and a member of the Massachusetts Public Health Council, according to the state website. The state Public Health Council members are appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker.

Email Anastasia Lennon at alennon@newbedfordlight.org.

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