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Hebrew SeniorLife chief executive Len Fishman to retire next year

Hebrew SeniorLife announced Wednesday that chief executive Len Fishman will retire next spring. Fishman has led the large, Harvard-affiliated senior care nonprofit, which has housing facilities in Brookline, Canton, Dedham, Randolph, Revere, and Roslindale, for 12 years. He will be replaced by President Lou Woolf.

In the e-mail to members of the health care community, Jennifer Silver, chairwoman of the board of directors, called Fishman “an extraordinary visionary.’’

Fishman oversaw development of the massive NewBridge on the Charles campus in Dedham, described in a 2007 profile by Globe columnist Steve Bailey as one of “Fishman’s arks.’’

“During his tenure, we doubled the number of seniors we serve in supportive housing,’’ Silver wrote. “We opened two new levels of post-acute care to rehabilitate seniors coming out of the hospital before sending them home. We created a multigenerational campus, offered assisted living to the community for the first time and radically reinvented our approach to long-term care.’’

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The list of accomplishments went on, including an expansion of medical education and the Institue for Aging Research.

“I was drawn to Hebrew SeniorLife by its unique combination of health care, housing communities, research and teaching–qualities that make it a national resource in the field of aging,’’ Fishman said, in a press release. “What I could not appreciate until I got here is the deep culture of love and respect for elders shared by the most dedicated and diverse staff with which I have ever had the privilege to work.’’

I met Fishman recently during a visit to NewBridge on a fellowship program run by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation and former Globe reporter Larry Tye. He spoke frankly about the challenge of serving the growing number of older Americans: In 20 years, the average age of people in the United State will be slightly higher than what it is in Florida today, he said. The ranks of people over the age of 85 will nearly double.

“This is an unprecedented shift in human history,’’ he said.

He pointed to the weight such change will place on the US economy, and he called for a new paradigm in health care. Seniors should be cared for where they want to live, he said, with support services in the community and nursing homes that feel like neighborhoods, rather than the hospitals they were originally designed to mimic.

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“We are still pioneers of this new longevity,’’ he said.

Fishman previously served in the administration of former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and was president of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, now called LeadingAge.

Woolf joined Hebrew SeniorLife in October 2009 from North Shore Medical Center, part of Partners HealthCare, where he was chief operating officer. He previously held the same position at New England Baptist Hospital.

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