LEWISTON — Growing up, Jeff Brickman tagged along on house calls with his grandfather, carrying the man’s doctor bag as his grandfather tended to immigrant families in greater Boston.

He watched his grandmother, who served as an Army nurse, help with his grandfather’s medical practice. He sat in the physican’s lounge while his surgeon father did medical rounds at the hospital.

With that kind of childhood, Brickman might have become a doctor himself if not for one problem: organic chemistry class.

“After I confronted my sorry experience in second semester organic chemistry, I remember talking to my grandfather and he said, ‘You know, why don’t you go into executive leadership in health care? You’ve got a love for health care; you like to lead. It seems to be a natural,'” Brickman said.

His grandfather was right.

Brickman, 61, has spent nearly four decades helping to lead hospitals and health care systems around the country.

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Last month, he became president and CEO of Central Maine Healthcare in Lewiston.

“It’s nice to be back in New England; it’s nice to be back home,” he said. “It’s nice to be in an organization as well-respected as this organization.”

Brickman is the first new leader of Central Maine Healthcare in more than a decade. He replaces Peter Chalke, who retired this year after 33 years at Central Maine Healthcare, 14 as CEO.

Brickman earned his bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Connecticut. After his grandfather’s advice, and after learning more about the administrative side of health care, Brickman went on to earn an Master of Business Administration with a concentration in health care administration from Temple University in Philadelphia.

“Long story short, everything clicked at that point,” he said.

Brickman worked at a local hospital, becoming part of an administrative team there while he went to graduate school. After graduation, he worked for Baystate Medical Center in Massachusetts, where he became senior vice president and chief operating officer.

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Over the years, Brickman has helped lead Meridian Health System in New Jersey and Provena Health in Illinois. For the past five years, he served as a group president at Centura Health in Colorado, where he led the Mountains and North Denver Operating Group and was president and CEO of St. Anthony Hospital.

When the CEO position opened at Central Maine Healthcare — which includes Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Rumford and Bridgton hospitals, the Dempsey Center, the Central Maine Heart and Vascular Institute and a collection of medical practices — Brickman relished the opportunity. It would be his first time leading an entire hospital system as CEO and it would bring him back to his beloved New England.

“I’m hopeful my national experience will help us deliver care in a fundamentally strong and quality manner,” he said.

Since Brickman took over about a month ago, he’s spent much of his time learning about the hospital system he’s signed up to lead. When he’s finished talking with employees and others within Central Maine Healthcare, he plans to talk with those outside the system, including major businesses and municipalities “to really have a sense of how people on the outside looking in view us,” he said.

“How are we perceived?” he said. “What do we do well; what can we improve on? After I do that, I’ll have both an internal and external view of the world and then I can compare that to the data. Then I’ll have a whole picture.”

Brickman expects it to take three or four months for him to get that whole picture. He won’t know until then what he’ll propose for Central Maine Healthcare’s future.

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His early sense, based in part on national trends: Central Maine Healthcare may need to care more for people in the community and outside the hospital.

“You want to work where people work, live, play and pray, quite frankly — that’s where we want to be,” he said. “Today when I look at where we are — there are a couple of gaps I’m beginning to hear about that we need to close. Gaps locationally, gaps in terms of outpatient care, gaps in terms of where our physicians are located.”

But whatever Central Maine Healthcare needs, whatever the community needs from Central Maine Healthcare, he’s excited to help provide it.

“I think the best is yet to come — I really do,” he said. “I think this is a very exciting time in health care. I’ve been in health care ever since I can remember. I remember doing the house call visits and things like that. I think we have an opportunity to reinvent the way we provide health care in this country. I think we need to do that. I think the opportunity to lead an organization as well-respected as Central Maine is, at this point in time in our country, about as good as it gets.”

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