Frank Sardone departs Bronson Healthcare at the end of the year, ending 31 years with the Kalamazoo health system, the last 23 as its president and CEO. He prepares to retire as Bronson Healthcare undertakes major capital projects that include a new $22 million hospital in South Haven and a $60 million outpatient cancer pavilion in downtown Kalamazoo. Like other health systems, Bronson is responding to forces that are reshaping health care and will only continue to affect the industry in 2020 and beyond. James “Chip” Falahee will serve as interim CEO until Bronson hires a new chief executive.
What do you see as the state of Bronson Healthcare today as you prepare to exit?
I’m pleased to say I’ll be handing Bronson off in a strong position from a patient care standpoint, from a quality standpoint, and solid strategically and financially. From a patient care standpoint, we continue to make improvements in quality. We’re always striving to provide the highest level of care and that process continues. Strategically, we have various projects underway right now. All of these are designed to bring high-quality care to the customer wherever they are.
What are the major forces driving change at Bronson in 2020?
It’s similar trends that we’ve seen over the past several years. Consumerism is certainly driving a lot. Just as our shopping habits have changed and evolved with online ordering and delivery services, we’re making health care much more convenient and accessible, through virtual visits and by having offices closer to where people live. The other thing that continues to evolve is the whole value equation and making sure that we provide the right care at the right time at the right place and at the right cost.
We continue to see the shifting payment models that shift more risk to health care providers. That trend continues to evolve and we have to continue to look at ways to more efficiently provide care, and that’s a good thing because we’re focusing on what’s the right care at the right time and place for that patient.
If you had the power to make any change to the American health care system, what’s the first thing you’d do?
That’s a pretty simple answer for me because it would be to make sure everyone has appropriate health care coverage. We’re well aware of the debates going on nationally and the whole gamut of options. I don’t advocate a specific model, except that we should be striving for that universal coverage. I look at health care as a right and I think in our country, we should be figuring out how everyone gets covered.
What do you want to hear the presidential candidates talk about in 2020?
So many countries in the world have figured out how to provide universal health care coverage. That should be part of the dialogue, regardless of the political party.
What issues are going to emerge and accelerate in health care in 2020?
The trends that are there with consumerism. No question, we have completely changed our habits in virtually every other aspect of how we purchase goods and services. Health care is no exception. I think technology will enable that. The other thing is the trend toward shifting the risk for the population to the health care provider. That means we have to and we are paying greater attention to the social determinants of health. It’s been demonstrated that we can only, from a health care provision standpoint, do about 20 percent, and 80 percent of the impact is from the social determinants.
What in your industry worries you?
The uncertainty. We had what was demonstrated as improvements (in health coverage) from the Affordable Care Act. That has been questionable with the changes that have (since) been made. What will the next cycle bring? It’s just the uncertainty. There’s a long lead time for any project in health care that requires construction and requires capital, and that uncertainty is a real challenge. The more certainty we have, the better we can plan to meet consumer needs.
What gives you hope and optimism for 2020?
We are getting better and better as an industry in understanding patient needs. We’re doing a better job of applying evidence-based medicine to whatever the condition is, and the electronic health record enables that implementation of whatever that pathway is for that patient. It allows the physician and other providers to see what you received here and what lab test you had there. Being able to see that complete record for a patient is very important.
I never buy into the gloom that many advocate. We’re providing better care today than we were 40 years ago that’s been enabled by technology and the other resources. I think it will just keep getting better and better. We’re always going to be challenged by how we pay for these miracles that get produced every day, but I think it’s a worthy challenge that we take on.
When you write the letter that you leave in the desk drawer for your successor to read on their first day, what advice will you offer?
I’ve been asked that question a lot lately. I’m reminded of (the book) Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the things that’s always stayed in my mind, and I must have read that over 25 years ago, was ‘seek first to understand.’ That’s kind of a credo I’ve always carried with me.
In health care, you have lots of different stakeholders. You have a staff with close to 9,000 people, we have the community, we have physicians and we have other providers. Most importantly, we all have and share the ultimate customer — and that’s the patient and their family. So seek first to understand what does that patient need and how do we best serve that patient. I look at us as being servant leaders. Everything we do is in a pretty complicated industry, but you can simplify it by saying, ‘Whatever we do, this is all in service to our ultimate customer, the patient and family.’