Judith M. Persichilli
Judith M. Persichilli

By Christina Leslie | Correspondent

Catholic nurse and parishioner in St. James, Pennington, has been tapped by N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy to be the state’s next Department of Health commissioner.

Judith M. Persichilli, 70, will be the first state health commissioner who started her career as a nurse, and who also has prior administrative experience, including as CEO of Trenton’s St. Francis Medical Center and Catholic Health East.

“By any measure, her work has been a success,” Murphy said at a June 25 news conference in Ewing. “As a nurse, as an administrator and as somebody who has been intimately involved with health care policy at every level, Judy brings a long and distinguished career of insight and practical experience to one of our state’s most critical jobs.”

During the press conference, Persichilli said she was “thrilled by the opportunity to continue serving the people of New Jersey,” and added, “By bringing my deep experience in all aspects of health care to bear on improving the services the department provides, I look forward to tackling the challenges that lay ahead.”

Persichilli received her nursing diploma in 1968 from the St. Francis Hospital School of Nursing, Trenton; a bachelor of science degree in nursing summa cum laude from Rutgers University in 1976, and a master of arts in administration summa cum laude from Rider College (now University), Lawrenceville, in 1980. She also received an honorary doctor of health degree from Georgian Court University, Lakewood, in 2009, and an honorary doctor of humane letters from Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Conn., in 2011.

Persichilli served as chief executive of Catholic Health East, based in Newtown Square, Pa., from 2010 to 2013, when CHE merged with Trinity Health of Michigan. She was then interim CEO of the combined operation for a few months. Previously, she had served as CEO of St. Francis Medical Center, Trenton, for eight years.

In 2006, Persichilli was inducted into the New Jersey State Nurses Association Hall of Honor. She was the 2008 recipient of the Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton, Richard J. Hughes Humanitarian Award. In 2011, Persichilli was named one of the 50 most powerful people in New Jersey health care by NJ Biz; received the Edward J. Ill Excellence in Medicine Award for Outstanding Medical Executive, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Persichilli was awarded the Benemerenti Medal, a papal honor, in September 2011. A year later, she co-founded the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia, which provides fundraising support to Catholic causes and organizations throughout the Greater Philadelphia region.

Persichilli, a resident of Pennington, is a member of various community agencies and several community boards, including the N.J. State Health Care Administration Board; the board of directors of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute; the Kerney Foundation board of trustees; the board of Georgian Court University, and the board of the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia. She and her husband, Anthony J. Persichilli, were married 49 years; he died July 24.

Cathy Bennett, president and CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association, declared Persichilli’s nomination an “excellent choice,” saying she remained true to her commitment as a patient-oriented nurse at each of the hospitals she helmed.

“She met the challenge not only of strong leadership and sound management, but she did so while never losing her focus on the patients, the community and the most vulnerable,” Bennett said.

“That compassion is backed up by a strong grip on the complexities of health care today and a vision for health care’s future,” Bennett said.

Pending a state Senate confirmation, Persichilli will replace Shereef Elnahal, who left the administration in July to serve as chief executive of state-owned University Hospital in Newark, which Persichilli had been overseeing since last summer.