Barry Freedman, who has been chief executive of Philadelphia’s Einstein Healthcare Network since 2003, announced Thursday that he will retire from that position at the end of this year.

But he is not going away entirely. The nonprofit’s board of directors has asked Freedman, 71, to stay around for special projects next year, including the pursuit of a merger with Thomas Jefferson University, a deal that has been challenged by the Federal Trade Commission on antitrust grounds.

“I will remain to fight the fight because I believe that the Jefferson merger is great for particularly North Philadelphia, because it will support Einstein, and Jefferson will commit to sustain programs there so that we can continue to serve vulnerable populations,” Freedman said. “I won’t abandon that effort.”

Freedman is the longest-serving health-system CEO in the Philadelphia region.

The Einstein board selected Ken Levitan, currently executive vice president and chief administrative officer, to take over as interim CEO in January. Levitan led the health system’s incident command center during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During Freedman’s tenure, Einstein celebrated its 150th anniversary, moved Moss Rehab from Philadelphia to Elkins Park, and built a new hospital, Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, in East Norriton, as a replacement for the former Montgomery Hospital in Norristown.

Einstein has long been in search of a merger partner, given the precarious financial position of its main hospital on North Broad Street in the Logan section of Philadelphia, where it services a financially vulnerable population. But it was unsuccessful in reaching a final agreement until 2018, with Jefferson.

Einstein and Jefferson are now gathering information to defend their deal against the FTC at a September hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, federal CARES Act aid has spared Einstein from financial devastation after COVID-19 caused demand for nonurgent health-care services to evaporate, Freedman said. The system was on track to lose $70 million from March through June, but thanks to government help, managed to get close to breakeven for the year ended June 30, Freedman said.

The system also saved money through furloughs or pay reductions for about 1,600 employees.

The health system had $1.29 billion in revenue in the year ended June 30, 2019. Financial results for fiscal year 2020 won’t be public until next month.

It’s too soon to say much about the current fiscal year, Freedman said. “We had forecast that our volume would be a continuing challenge over the next six months because of the pandemic,” he said. “We are actually doing a little better than expected, but not as well as pre-COVID.”