Since arriving in Richmond in 2000, Peter J. Bernard has steadily built the nonprofit hospital system Bon Secours, which locally includes St. Mary’s Hospital, St. Francis Medical Center, Richmond Community Hospital and Memorial Regional Medical Center. He made smart hospital acquisitions, erected clinical outlets to identify health problems early, and used new urbanist principles in project construction.
Last week he announced that he would retire Aug. 31 at age 62. Till then, the company says he’ll continue to work on projects and help with the transition of Toni Ardabell, recently promoted to chief executive of Bon Secours Richmond.
Bernard guided Bon Secours Virginia’s growth from 4,400 employees to more than 12,500 with annual revenues of $2.1 billion. He also helped lead efforts to build the summer training camp for the Washington Redskins and renovate in the city’s impoverished East End.
A regular on Style’s Power List, Bernard’s a devotee of using mixed-use, new urbanist principles in planning health facilities and employed the charrette concept of holding intensive planning sessions with local communities before building. He spoke with Style by phone last week while attending a health care conference.
Style: How did you come to decide to retire?
Bernard: I’ve been 40 years in health administration, 25 as chief executive officer and 15 with Bon Secours. I will be 62 in July and I started to think about my final career chapter.
How did you achieve such big growth?
Some of it was organic growth and some of it was merger and acquisition. We had three hospitals when I arrived in August 2000. We started with St. Francis in Chesterfield in 2005, we added three hospitals in 2008, and in 2010 we did a joint venture with Sentara at Virginia Beach, the Princess Anne Hospital. This January we added Rappahannock in the Northern Neck. We also grew from 50 practitioners to about 800 clinicians and over 100 sites.
What are greatest challenges for hospital systems that have been under criticism for such things as a lack of transparency on pricing?
A lot of energy and effort are directed toward much-improved clinical quality outcomes at a much lower price. You take out waste in terms in terms of delivery of health care to transform the medical model.
You have taken a very robust approach with dealing with the community.
We are really proud that we have been able to put in place a number of components, which are a 25-year vision for the various campuses, around the concept of new urbanization. In particular we are creating renaissance-type activities in the East End. Mayor Dwight Jones has been quite formidable. It’s been a journey for as long as I have been here.
Can you talk about the Redskins summer training camp?
I was approached by the governor and the mayor looking for a partner when the time frame was very acute. We are very much into fitness and wellness. We felt this would also enhance giving back to the community. Part of that arrangement was the renovation of the Westhampton School into a school of nursing. Bon Secours did not have a presence on that side of Broad Street.
Some people say the Redskins training camp may not have lived up to expectations in terms of receipts and the sales of food and the like.
To the contrary, I hear all kinds of applause for it in terms of public relations that it has brought to the Richmond community and giving it the aura of being more of a sports town. You might argue a little bit about some of the monetary aspects of this but there are so many intangibles and the national recognition you get on programs like ESPN.
You often try to incorporate new urbanism in your designs. How did that come about?
DPZ [Duany Plater-Zyberg Co.] is the firm we used out of Miami. We used them from my work in Louisville. … They were a natural fit and [asked], how do you maximize community needs, whether it is health care, retail, residential, and pull that all together so it’s convenient for the community and you don’t have to get in a car and drive somewhere. They made the observation on the East End — you definitely need to get rid of the food desert and need a grocery store, a library, new lighting and streets and clean up the security and playgrounds.
Where did the charrette concept come from?
I’m the son of an architect who had a renowned history in the Chicago area. I was invited to a charrette for a major philanthropic development there [and] used the idea when I was in Louisville.
What do you see as the future of hospitals and health care?
Health care continues to go through a lot of merger and acquisition. I have a lot of concern for rural health care and the ability of them to succeed, given decreasing reimbursement.
How do you feel about the stall of Medicaid expansion in Virginia? Is that hurting?
We are very, very bullish and favorable toward Medicaid expansion, and again, it fits with our faith-based vision to take care of the underserved.
Any more thoughts?
It’s just been a real thrill to be part of the Richmond community for our four boys. They had an incredible education and experience. ... The Bernards are enjoying the community. It is our plan at present to remain in the Richmond community. S