Published in Health Care

Bronson begins national search for next CEO

BY Sunday, July 07, 2019 07:00pm

KALAMAZOO — The last time Bronson Methodist Hospital hired a new CEO, the organization operated a single hospital with an assortment of outpatient clinics in the Kalamazoo area.

Now Bronson Healthcare Group has four hospitals in Kalamazoo, Paw Paw, South Haven and Battle Creek, 90 locations across Southwest Michigan and annual revenues well in excess of $1 billion. As well, the health system employs a medical staff of more than 1,400 care providers, and is a partner in a medical school.

Don Parfet, Chairman, Bronson Healthcare Group COURTESY PHOTO

As directors search for a successor to retiring President and CEO Frank Sardone, they remain cognizant of all the changes that have occurred over the last two decades not only at Bronson but also in the broader health care industry.

Working with Kansas City, Mo.-based recruitment firm Gallagher MSA Search to conduct a nationwide search for a new CEO, Bronson’s board of directors is “well into the process of confirming and validating what the position is going to demand (and) what the candidates’ skill sets ought to look like,” Chairman Don Parfet told MiBiz.

One priority for health system directors is to ensure that they are in sync with executive leadership and medical staff on Bronson’s strategic direction as a regional health system, he said.

In a new CEO, the search committee will look for “someone who has demonstrated experiences, demonstrated accomplishments in organizing teams, applying best practices and assuring strong patient outcomes,” Parfet said.

Playing to the health system’s favor in the CEO search are accomplishments under Sardone’s leadership “that have made Bronson a national name in the health care industry,” Parfet said. 

“As a result, people who are striving for a position such as this will not hesitate to inquire about our opportunity,” he said.

Under Sardone, Bronson in 2005 became the first health system in the U.S. to win the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award on its first site visit.

This year, IBM Watson ranked Bronson among the top 20 percent of health systems in the U.S. The firm used data on clinical operations and patient satisfaction to evaluate 2,961 hospitals nationwide. The 337 top performers had fewer deaths, complications and infections than the remaining hospitals. As well, the top performers had shorter inpatient stays and ER waiting times, lower costs and higher patient satisfaction rates.

‘A great draw’

The recognitions for quality, combined with Bronson’s strong financial position and the continued economic growth in the Kalamazoo area, which “has a lot to offer,” should help to draw a pool of CEO candidates, according to Parfet.

“We expect it will be a large pool. We’re asking for the (search) consultant to assure we have a diverse pool and we expect we’ll be able to find individuals with a really strong background and a good runway, if you will, for their careers here in Kalamazoo,” he said.

The Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine, known as WMed, which formed in 2012 through a collaboration of WMU, Bronson and Ascension Borgess, also should “be a great draw for somebody,” Parfet said. 

Bronson announced last month that Sardone, who turns 62 in October, plans to retire at the end of this year. Sardone has been with Bronson for 31 years, and served as chief executive since 1996.

Directors have no preference on whether the next CEO will come internally or from outside the health system. Likewise, they have set no requirement on prior CEO-level leadership experience in the health care industry. 

“We want to make sure that the leader is the absolute best leader for the organization,” Parfet said. “We do not have a preference. What we do have is a need for someone that has demonstrated an ability to lead an organization of this size and scale, and has a deep understanding of the issues that we’re facing, and has experience that shows they can organize teams and talent to address those issues in a very thoughtful and productive manner.”

‘Appealing’ position

Bronson goes about the CEO search as it remains positioned well across the region and in a “very good financial position, and that’s appealing,” said Allan Baumgarten, principal at Minneapolis, Minn.-based Allan Baumgarten LLC and a health care consultant who annually analyzes the Michigan market.

Over the years, the health system has taken a number of steps to expand regionally, most recently with the 2017 acquisition of South Haven Community Health System, and “in a sense is well positioned for the future,” Baumgarten said.

Alignment with its medical staff on strategic direction and an ability to adapt to the trends affecting health care today are traits that help any health system attract quality candidates, particularly in an era of value-based contracting with health insurers and pressures for greater transparency around cost and quality. 

“Given challenges that health systems are facing all over the country, those that have demonstrated the ability to meet challenges and also exploit opportunities are the ones that are successful,” Baumgarten said.

Time of change

Bronson’s search caps a period of executive leadership transitions at hospitals across the West Michigan region in the last two years. 

The latest transitions occurred on May 6 when Peter Bergmann became president at Ascension Borgess in Kalamazoo and Dr. Hyung Tai Kim became president at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids.

Other new chief executives named since 2018 include Tina Freese Decker, president and CEO at Spectrum Health; Peter Hahn, president and CEO at Metro Health-University of Michigan Health; and Gary Allore, president at Mercy Health Muskegon

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to note that Bronson was the first hospital to win the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award on its first site visit, not the first ever hospital. It was also updated to correct a typo in Peter Bergmann’s name.

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