Cottage CEO has high profile away from work
WOODSVILLE — Cottage Hospital CEO Maria Ryan has made headlines due to her friendship with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whom she accompanied to a state dinner at the White House in September.
And her appearances with Giuliani, who has become embroiled in the controversy over President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, also seem to have raised her profile in other venues. In addition to her day job running the 25-bed hospital in Woodsville, Ryan has in the past couple of years been speaking and writing on the subject of the rights of women in Iran, work that has brought her — with Giuliani — to places as far from home as Paris and Albania.
Ryan’s travels with Giuliani have also taken her to the far-flung locales of Israel to visit a hospital and London to see the Yankees play the Red Sox.
Ryan, in remarks during a May 2018 appearance at the Iran Freedom Convention for Human Rights and Democracy in Washington, addressed the question of what brings her to the issue of human rights in Iran.
“You may wonder why I am here,” she said, according to excerpts of her remarks posted on the website of the Organization of Iranian American Communities, which hosted the convention. “I’m not Iranian, I’m not a politician, I’m just a human being who was very compelled by the story I heard about the (Iranian opposition movement, the Mujahedin-e Khalq).”
Ryan said in the excerpts of the May 2018 convention that she has been “really affected” by stories of the plight of the Iranian people.
“I’ve had my ups and downs in life and my struggles,” she said in May 2018. “I had to overcome poverty. But never was I persecuted on a daily basis. Never was I told my opinion doesn’t matter because of my gender. Never was I tortured or had loved ones kidnapped or killed.”
Ryan did not respond to interview requests, and her executive assistant, Missy Lund, said last week that Ryan will not be conducting any interviews “for the next several months” because of a transition in the hospital’s marketing department.
But Lund confirmed that Ryan had visited Albania in July and had written an opinion piece in September for The Hill. Giuliani has ties to The Hill’s Republican owner, Jimmy Finkelstein, a friend who raised funds for Giuliani’s failed 2008 presidential bid.
Ryan’s piece in The Hill, titled “Women are crucial to resisting Iran’s regime,” said that Ryan and other “sponsored” speakers attended the annual conference of the National Council of Resistance of Iran and visited Ashraf 3, home to members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq political movement.
“I met many brave women who survived the mullahs’ brutal crackdown,” Ryan wrote. “Many said they had suffered in torture chambers for long years. They shared their stories with me, their personal suffering and the loss of loved ones.”
In response to a question about whether Ryan had ever traveled to Ukraine or been in meetings with Giuliani where Ukraine was discussed, Lund said via email, “As far as the Ukraine goes, Maria has never been to the Ukraine nor has she been involved in any of the issues pertaining to the Ukraine.”
Lund also said that “any charity work that Maria has done has been during her scheduled time off from Cottage Hospital.”
Ryan’s work on such topics diverges from her career path in New Hampshire.
A Manchester native in her mid-50s, Ryan owns properties in Lisbon, N.H., and Manchester. She married at age 17, had three children, and entered nursing after earning an associate degree at New Hampshire Technical Institute in 1989. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at the University of New Hampshire in 1994 and a master’s degree from Rivier College in Nashua, N.H., in 1997. She is a board-certified nurse practitioner and registered nurse.
In 2000, Ryan was named chief nursing officer with the for-profit Hospital Corporation of America, a nationwide chain of hospitals, then joined Cottage Hospital in 2006 as chief nursing officer and chief operating officer. She became CEO of Woodsville’s critical access hospital in 2010.
Ryan earned $318,000 in 2017 for leading the roughly 250-employee hospital in rural Grafton County. It had an operating budget of $33.9 million for the fiscal year that ended in September 2018, according to Cottage’s most recent 990 tax filing.
A 2017 profile of Ryan in the Valley News’Enterprise business magazine described her collecting photographs of herself with Republican politicians such as Sen. Marco Rubio, former House Speaker Paul Ryan and former President George W. Bush.
“My meeting schedule is like a hamster wheel, but if I have five minutes sometimes I’ll just go and ask permission to go in and meet patients,” she said at the time. “And it just fills my heart.”
She also went target shooting, accompanied by a Valley News photographer, at a fish and game club in Bath, N.H., where she used both her .38-caliber snubnosed revolver, which she said was her concealed-carry gun, and a .357-caliber revolver.
William Taxter, a Lyman, N.H., resident who chairs Cottage’s board, said he was unaware of Ryan’s speeches about human rights in Iran.
“When she does travel, it’s on her vacation time,” said Taxter, a semi-retired stonemason. “It’s not an issue at all.”
It’s challenging for the small hospital to maintain its place in the increasingly competitive health care market, but Ryan has managed to do that, he said.
“I think she’s doing a great job,” he said.
A Cottage news release earlier this year noted that she had been awarded the “coveted Louis Gorin Award for outstanding achievement in rural health care” by the National Rural Healthcare Association.
As for her international travels, the Mujahedin-e Khalq — the group Ryan has spoken in support of — has a “checkered history,” said Nicholas Miller, a government professor at Dartmouth College.
The group, first formed as an Islamic socialist group in the 1960s, was designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department in the late 1990s. It was allied with Saddam Hussein and has participated in terrorist attacks in Iran the past.
Since then, the Mujahedin-e Khalq has positioned itself as a democratic movement and successfully lobbied to be removed from the United States’ list of terrorist groups in 2012, during the Obama presidency, said Miller, who does not know Ryan nor of her involvement with the group specifically.
Given the Trump administration’s opposition to the current regime in Iran, the Mujahedin-e Khalq might be viewed as a potential partner and successor government, Miller said.
For Mujahedin-e Khalq supporters, such as Giuliani and Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton, “the enemy of Iran is their friend kind of by default,” Miller said.
While it goes without question that the current regime in Iran has a poor human rights record, Miller said it’s not clear that the Mujahedin-e Khalq offers “a great model for human rights.”
Misagh Parsa, a Dartmouth professor of sociology, said the Mujahedin-e Khalq, sometimes known as the MEK, has not abandoned its initial goal of establishing an Islamic-socialist state in Iran, “whatever they say in the west” about the group’s interest in democracy.
Conditions in Iran will not improve by replacing one group with another, Parsa said.
“Democracy will not come without a revolution,” he said.
Whether or not people who speak at conferences in support of the MEK, such as Giuliani and Bolton, actually believe in the group’s cause, they likely get paid to be there, Miller said.
The New York Timesreported in 2011 that the group paid speakers of diverse political backgrounds between $10,000 and $50,000 per appearance.
Ryan has participated in the Iran-related events with Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer whose international work has been under increasing scrutiny as Democrats in Congress press for impeachment. On Tuesday, The Washington Postreported that Giuliani’s consulting business is being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York that he once led.
In her May 2018 remarks, Ryan said, “I was very thankful that Mayor Giuliani and people from the American government helped MEK resettle in Tirana, Albania.”
Giuliani also mentioned Ryan in his remarks at the time, saying “Dr. Ryan … runs a hospital in New Hampshire and she’s one of the top executives in New Hampshire. And as you will see, she’s a woman, and a mother, and a grandmother. But she has a full-time, very important job as the head of a hospital. And she is working with us to make sure that the health care facilities at Tirana are as good as they were at Ashraf and better.”
Giuliani referred to Ryan as “Dr.” because she holds a doctorate in health care administration from Warren National University, an online school that closed in 2009 following a failed accreditation bid.
He also referred to Ryan as a “doctor” when he represented her daughter Vanessa, his personal assistant, in an insurance fraud case in Florida last year, according to the Miami Herald.
Ryan also uses the “Dr.” title on a personal webpage, drmariaryan.com, through which she can be booked for speaking engagements. The website says it is “Powered by: Montagne Communications,” a leading public relations firm in New Hampshire.
Ryan was the only hospital administrator on a panel on “policy in Iran,” organized by the Paris-based Foundation for Middle Eastern Studies, or FEMO, and the Alliance for Public Awareness in Paris in June of 2018. The panel otherwise included current and former U.S. and European politicians and diplomats, according to an outline of the event on FEMO’s website.
Some trips have been closer to home. Ryan accompanied Giuliani, who is going through his third divorce, to a state dinner at the White House for Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in September of this year. Both have denied any romantic relationship, according to The Washington Post.
Vanessa Ryan, in a September interview with the New York Times, also denied that her mother and Giuliani, her employer, were having an affair. Instead, she said her mother sometimes serves as a consultant for Giuliani. For her part, Ryan referred to Giuliani as a “business partner” in a July tweet.
About a week before the White House dinner, Ryan tweeted a picture of herself standing next to Trump. He is wearing a red “Keep America Great” hat and she is wearing a sundress. Both are giving a thumbs up to the camera. She notes in the tweet that she also met Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner.
Ryan’s tweets also include photos of her wearing a Patriots jersey and dancing with the actor Jon Voight during a Super Bowl party. Trump awarded Voight the National Medal of Arts on Thursday.
Taxter, Cottage’s board chairman, was aware that Ryan knew Giuliani, who visited Cottage in 2018.
“I’ve always liked him,” Taxter said.
As for Ryan, her speaking topics include, “but are not limited to,” health care, leadership, empowerment and humanitarianism, according to her website.
The site says Ryan “is passionate about creating value for the consumer and is a fierce defender of patient rights. Her secrets to success are simple: be transparent and passionate, have enthusiasm and insight, listen well, and be visible.”
Valley News Staff Writer Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3213. Valley News Staff Writer John Gregg contributed to this report.