Nancy Formella, Former Geisel Associate Professor and President of Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital, Dies

Nancy Formella, MSN, CNNA, who held many top positions at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, died Thursday, January 16. She was 66 years old and lived in East Kingston, NH.

Photo courtesy of Dartmouth-Hitchcock

A member of the faculty of Dartmouth Medical School (now Geisel School of Medicine) in community and family medicine and then psychiatry as an associate professor, Formella came to Dartmouth-Hitchcock in 1999 as a senior nurse executive. Previously, she held a variety of administrative positions in the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, and at St. Luke’s Hospital in Jacksonville, FL—Mayo Clinic’s first satellite affiliate in that state.

When James Varnum, MHA, retired in 2006, after 26 years as president of Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital, Formella became interim president, then co-president with Thomas Colacchio, MD, of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Clinic. At that time, Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Clinic were separate entities, though closely aligned.

“It was immediately clear that Nancy had a genuine ability to connect with people—when you interacted with her it was obvious and she became very popular very quickly,” Colacchio recalls. “She also was extremely astute in understanding the important parameters necessary for a hospital to run efficiently and effectively. When you think about the different types of professionals working together in hospital organization, there are bound to be challenges and disparity.

“Partly because she was a nurse and partly because she had experience in consulting, she really understood these points of friction and how to get people to see other perspectives and to compromise in order to move forward. People did that because they believed her and trusted her,” he says. “She clearly made me a much better president because she was able to help me see those same things. Though we often had a different perspective, we formed a very positive and productive partnership.”

Together, Formella and Colacchio helped create Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health—the Lebanon-based medical center and southern New Hampshire group practices. It has since grown to include four additional hospitals and a visiting nursing agency.

William Green, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology at Geisel, was dean of the medical school from 2008 - 2010 and worked closely with Formella.

“As new dean of the then Dartmouth Medical School, I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to forge a reciprocally rewarding and empowering relationship with Dartmouth-Hitchcock leadership—especially co-presidents Nancy Formella and Tom Colacchio,” Green recalls. “What we were able to accomplish in leading our institutions together was a testament to Nancy’s clear thinking and abilities to frame issues, get wide input, and communicate a compromise path forward. And it wasn’t always easy—in the face of not only the ongoing yet changing complexities and challenges of academic medical centers, but in the nationwide collapse of the stock and credit markets later that year that severely affected our budgets and missions. She took the lead for the three of us on several issues, which she always approached with grace and professionalism.

“Above all Nancy was a people person,” he says. “It was a pleasure, and true honor, to work closely with her for those three years—and I’m sure Tom felt the same way.  Nancy played an essential role in moving both Dartmouth-Hitchcock and the medical school forward. I will always remember her and be thankful for her amazing efforts.”

Formella’s long record of accomplishments in nursing, both at Mayo and at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, was recognized by the New Hampshire Nurses Association—naming her Nurse Leader of the Year in 2004. In 2005, she was recognized by the New Hampshire Organization of Nursing Leaders with their award for Nursing Management Excellence.

She also served as executive advisor to the Boards of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Clinic and Mary Hitchcock. She retired from Dartmouth-Hitchcock in 2012, becoming the chief operating officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston, MA, in 2013, where she stayed until her retirement in 2017.

After spending more than 40 years in leadership roles, Formella launched an executive and leadership coaching business in 2017.

Certified by the Gestalt International Study Center as a coach, she was an engaging and sought-after speaker, taught classes for continuing education, and wrote extensively on the topics of nursing and healthcare.

“I knew Nancy as a colleague and as a personal friend—our sons were friends too, and we spent more than a decade sitting together on basketball bleachers watching games,” says Leslie Henderson, PhD, professor of physiology and neurobiology, and dean of faculty affairs at Geisel.

“She was such an accomplished person with an amazing sense of integrity and humility. She always had a genuine laugh and smile. And she really liked to sing—one of my favorite memories of her is singing the national anthem at basketball games. Nancy, quite simply, was always ‘real.’ She was one of my favorite people.”