Roy Hitchings, who has led the local health care system for nearly 13 years, announced April 28 that he will retire next year.

Pen Bay Healthcare issued a news release announcing his decision to retire in 2012.

The Pen Bay Board of Trustees will conduct a national search for the next chief executive officer, which the board expects will take nine to 12 months to complete. The search is likely to include candidates from both within and outside Pen Bay Healthcare, the release noted.

Greg Dufour, the board’s secretary and chief executive officer of Camden National Bank, will chair the search committee, which will be appointed in the next several weeks.

Hitchings stated in the news release that he has mixed emotions over his decision.

“I love my job, Pen Bay’s mission and the wonderful people with whom I work. However, it’s time to move to the next phase of my life. I will be 65 this December and want to spend more time with my wife, Debbi, and the rest of my family, travel, pursue other interests and, yes, maybe fish a bit more,” Hitchings stated.

Hitchings said he and his wife intend to remain in the local area.

Hitchings came to the then Northeast Health system in September 1998, succeeding Gary Daniels. Hitchings had previously been chief executive officer for Cape Cod Healthcare Inc., which was based in Hyannis, Mass.

He stated in his initial interview in 1998 that the greatest challenge was to balance affordable access to services while maintaining a high quality of health care.

During the 13 years, there have been extensive changes in the local health care system.

Pen Bay Healthcare became a full member of MaineHealth on Jan. 1, 2011. Pen Bay Healthcare’s annual operating budget has grown from $60 million in 1998 to $144 million for the upcoming year.

Pen Bay Healthcare consists of Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport, Quarry Hill Retirement Community in Camden, Kno-Wal-Lin home health care and hospice, the Knox Center for Long Term Care, and a majority of the local physician practices.

“We’ll miss Roy’s leadership,” stated Pen Bay Healthcare Board Chairman Joel Lafleur, MD. “He has been a pleasure to work with on the transition to becoming a member of MaineHealth and on many other projects over the years as well. I wish him all the best.”

Medical Staff President Beth Koester, MD, said: “Roy has been a solid anchor for the administration during his tenure at Pen Bay. There have been significant stresses placed on the organization by economical and political changes, and he has provided admirable leadership in bringing us to where we are today. I am pleased that he will be here for the remainder of my term as president.”

Pen Bay has a staff of more than 100 physicians and more than 1,500 other employees.

“I am very thankful for the honor of being Pen Bay’s CEO for almost 13 years, and have some important goals left to accomplish before I retire next spring,” Hitchings said. “I will work closely with the board, the executive team and the medical staff to help ensure a strong leadership transition. I have confidence in this team’s abilities to make the transition and welcome a new leader. Pen Bay is a solid organization in a gorgeous location in Maine and should attract excellent candidates.”