Dr. Richard Hart assumes responsibilities of LLUAHSC
Richard H. Hart, MD, DrPH, assumed responsibilities as president and chief executive officer of Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center earlier this year.
He’s only been in office a few weeks, but the newly appointed President and CEO of Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center (LLUAHSC) is already outlining plans for a decade of growth, expansion, and outreach for the organization.
In a private interview conducted in his office at Magan Hall, Richard H. Hart, MD, DrPH, talks about his aspirations for the future of the unique mélange of medical, educational, and spiritual ventures he now directs and seeks to unify.
Dr. Hart—who acceded to the office from his previous position as chancellor and CEO of Loma Linda University—outlines his four top priorities for the institution in four segments that spotlight the multi-faceted diversity of Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center:
1. To solidify the mission-focused direction of this campus;
2. To facilitate planned expansion of the health ministries of LLU Children’s Hospital, the Beaumont Healthcare Center, and Physicians Hospital of Murrieta in Temecula;
3. To continue the expanding globalization of LLUAHSC; and
4. To recruit the quality of faculty and staff needed to effectively manage this enterprise.
In discussing his four priorities, Dr. Hart articulates a handful of questions he believes are central to an understanding of the challenges the organization must address now in order to advance successfully into the future.
In addressing his first priority, Dr. Hart notes that solidifying the mission focus will require the campus to overcome a major obstacle that confronts expanding organizations regardless of their mission.
“The question,” he observes, “is how do we grow and still retain our distinctiveness? That is a huge challenge!”
He did not raise any issues relative to his second priority—perhaps because those questions had already been raised and addressed before he took office—nor was he asked to comment on the progress of those projects. He did, however, ask a far-reaching question related to the third priority: “How do we develop expertise in supporting academics and hospitals in the context of the Church worldwide?”
In response to the fourth priority, Dr. Hart comments that the challenge of recruiting the quality of faculty and staff needed to effectively manage the enterprise is “a huge issue.” He points out that “the current expectation we have is to increase by 50 percent in the next decade,” and asks, “How do we find these people?”
When asked, perhaps prematurely, what he sees as the biggest accomplishment of his administration so far, Dr. Hart leans back in the chair and laughs. “Survival!” he asserts. Then he draws a deep breath and says, “There are a number of issues here. We must strategically look at how to keep our entire complex moving in sync together. How do we keep the collaboration and complementary nature of this organization functioning? The immediate need is for a smooth transition of leadership. I am trying not to make any momentous changes, but to let the organization experience a smooth transition.”
While acknowledging that there may be differences in leadership styles between himself and his predecessor, B. Lyn Behrens, MBBS, Dr. Hart is quick to assert that he has difficult shoes to fill. Dr. Behrens’ remarkable accomplishments are semi-legendary throughout every level of LLUAHSC, and Dr. Hart does not see his role as creating drastic changes to the smoothly functioning mechanisms she established. “My goal,” he emphasizes, “is to maintain the momentum of the initiatives she has launched and to recognize that the environment is always changing. We’ll need to find new solutions for tomorrow’s problems.”
In the current national climate of economic instability, Dr. Hart anticipates that the organization may have to adapt to changing economic realities, especially at the medical entities within LLUAHSC. “It is clear that this will be a challenging year,” he asserts, “as the federal government seeks to cut both Medicare and Medicaid.” However, he underscores the positive when he adds that, “Steps are underway to rectify some of the budget shortfalls of the first three months of this year. I am cautiously hopeful that they will be sufficient to get us back on budget.” But since recent forecasts suggest stormy economic weather, he adds a reassuring note of caution. “We are a family,” he says, “and there are times when parts of this family tighten their belts to assist the others.”
Dr. Hart delineates his philosophy of leadership by sharing that he functions best “in a context of collaborative colleagues who are able and willing to challenge ideas and move forward together. Most decisions can be made in a collaborative fashion together, although there are times when difficult calls must be made.”
He expands the idea of collaboration with the observation that, “We have close relationships within the executive leadership council. We are exploring ways to help the entire complex feel like a working unit.”
What does he perceive to be the biggest contribution LLUAHSC will make to the world in the coming decade? “I probably want to divide that question in two,” he responds. “First, we need to move effectively to respond to the needs of the Inland Empire and truly provide readily accessible health care and educational opportunities for our local communities.” The need for locally based health care is very dear to Dr. Hart’s heart: During his tenure as dean of the School of Public Health and chancellor and CEO of LLU, Dr. Hart—who is a long-term resident of the region—was instrumental in establishing a number of community outreach health ministries such as the SACHS Norton Clinic in San Bernardino.
But if anything, he is even more passionate about the need for health care and medical education throughout the developing countries of the world. As an inveterate world traveler and man on a perpetual global mission, Dr. Hart is constantly ready to talk about world needs. “We carry a global responsibility,” he asserts. “With the completion of the Centennial Complex, we can push out classes and consultation to Adventist colleges and universities around the world. We already provide support to 24 Adventist hospitals through Adventist Health International; we need to develop similar relationships with other Adventist colleges and universities.”
At this point in the interview, Dr. Hart yawns and confesses that he is tired. It’s approximately 4:30 in the afternoon and he notes that he got into Ontario Airport at 11:30 the previous night. He had been representing LLUAHSC at the annual spring meeting of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. That observation naturally segues into a discussion of the emerging relationship between LLUAHSC and the Adventist Church. It is a subject he seems eager to address.
“I believe Loma Linda has developed an international reputation and credibility that needs to be used for the benefit of the Church,” he declares. “That should lead to expanded enthusiasm for the continuing education programs the Church offers for professionals, and consumer education for the public at large.” He goes on to clarify that he is speaking of “healthful living and all the issues the world looks to Loma Linda to provide expertise in.” He adds that recent conversations he has held with representatives of the Church’s rank and file membership have supported his conviction that the members are very glad to see the renewed emphasis on the spiritual mission of the health care arm of the Church. “They’re saying that Loma Linda is back,” he offers. “We’ve gotten back to our focus on global mission, and they see that as a very positive development.”
When probed for his thoughts on the current state of health care delivery, Dr. Hart responds with a vigorous affirmation of what he considers to be an intrinsic right. “I’m an old public health doctor,” he says. “I believe strongly in the right of access to health care for everyone. There are 46 million uninsured Americans. There are 6.6 billion people on earth, most of whom do not have access to health care. We have a unique responsibility as stewards of the resources we are given to try and reach out to the underserved groups.”
Many of the underserved groups he describes live in Muslim countries. Dr. Hart feels the Adventist health ministry is strategically positioned to reach out to the Islamic world. After mentioning that he and Dr. Behrens would leave the following weekend for Mauritania, Senegal, and Liberia, he outlined the reasons LLUAHSC is eager to extend a hand.
“There are incredible opportunities for the Adventist Church to speak to the Muslim world right now as well as to other faith communities of the world,” he states. “We are in a unique position because of our conservative lifestyle, faith commitment, and health care expertise. We’ve spent the last decade or two trying to define ourselves as Christians, but we should be defining ourselves as Adventists. We need to be bold and brave in stating our uniqueness and understanding. Islam associates Christians too much with fast food, pop culture, and immoral entertainment; they like our practice better.”
At the conclusion of the interview, Dr. Hart addressed a couple of personal questions. Not surprisingly, they bear a strong relationship to his views on the future of LLUAHSC. He starts out by describing his philosophy of life.
“I’m basically an optimist,” he shares. “I believe it’s important to be clear about what you want to do and then work hard to achieve it.” He transitions effortlessly from his personal beliefs into an expression of how those values relate to the challenges facing Loma Linda. “I have great confidence that God’s hand is in this place. My challenge is to figure out what He wants, rather than just going forward with what I want to do. Loma Linda is amazingly blessed with a community of committed lives. Few places have that to this degree.”
And although he does not draw a straight line between what he likes to do in his spare time and its application to his roles at LLUAHSC, the connection can easily be made by inference.
“I’m a farmer by nature,” he replies. “I enjoy being outdoors. We live on seven acres in Oak Glen with Christmas trees, 50 different varieties of fruit trees, a garden, some llamas, and dogs. I’m always about three months behind in my ranch work. I think best when I’m in the garden, hiking, or sitting on an airplane at 35,000 feet.”
It takes no stretch of the imagination to conclude that the favorite subject of his thinking and contemplation is the remarkable mix of challenges and opportunities Loma Linda faces at this crucial juncture—nor to imagine a certain farmer plowing, planting, nurturing, and bringing to harvest a rich crop of the finest bounty LLUAHSC has ever offered for the benefit of the world.
The sun is still shining; Dr. Hart is ardently cultivating his field.
By James Ponder