BJC HealthCare is one of the nation’s largest, nonprofit healthcare delivery organizations. In January 2018, Rich Liekweg was named as the organization’s third president and CEO. Surrounded by healthcare growing up, Liekweg is at ease embracing the 31,000 caregivers he calls team members. “It’s been a great transition coming from the inside,” Liekweg said. “I’ve gotten to know many wonderful people over the last eight years across BJC.”
Liekweg joined BJC HealthCare in 2009 as president of Barnes‐Jewish Hospital and group president for BJC HealthCare. In 2015, Liekweg was promoted to executive vice president and subsequently, president of BJC.
BJC is the largest provider of charity care, unreimbursed care and community benefits in the state of Missouri. With nearly $5 billion in net revenue, the organization serves the greater St. Louis, southern Illinois and mid‐Missouri regions.
What influenced your career path?
I was surrounded by healthcare growing up, along with an overarching theme of helping others. My dad was a civil servant who worked for the federal government, and my mother was a school teacher. My grandfather was a general practitioner and the city coroner in Washington, D.C. in the early 1900s. My uncle was an obstetrician, and my oldest brother was a cardio thoracic surgeon.
Early on, I considered enrolling in medical school. My first experience was working as an operating room orderly in the local hospital. During my second year of college, my dad sent me an article on hospital administration, an up-and‐coming field. He reminded me of my love of both medicine and business — it was the perfect combination. Fast forward to the summer after my junior year in college. I went to work in a hospital where my brother was practicing medicine, and I worked for the chief financial officer. He was a great mentor and taught me the steps necessary to break into this field. I went on to graduate school and the rest is history.
How are you adjusting to the new role as president and CEO, and what can employees expect?
Obviously, I’ll play a little bit of a different role as CEO, but it’s the same great organization that is recognized locally, regionally and nationally for being a successful integrated healthcare delivery system. It’s a very dynamic time in healthcare. We’ll be tackling some of the challenges all providers in healthcare are faced with these days.
In terms of my style — I’m a consensus builder and a servant leader. I’m one of 31,000 individuals and ultimately here to support those individuals in providing the best care possible to the communities we serve. Providing exceptional patient care will continue.
What are some of the challenges?
Healthcare in the U.S. is not affordable; therefore, it’s not accessible to all members of our communities. Healthcare as an industry is ripe for disruption. We have a responsibility to lower the total cost of care in all markets we serve.
What are possible solutions?
Using technology will enable us to lower costs and increase access across BJC. We are embracing technology as a creative solution — the best example is virtual care or telehealth. The technology is available to bring care into the home in order for individuals to bypass the emergency room or a physician’s office. This creates greater access points for our community for both those who are served well and those who are not.
For example, we use telehealth today to provide extra physician coverage across many of our intensive care units within BJC — this is part of our teleICU program. We also use telehealth for our stroke population so our emergency room physicians across BJC can communicate with our neurologists. We will be able to do so much more with telemedicine as technology continues to evolve. It will continue to be an integral part of BJC’s access to care strategy.
How is BJC unique compared to other large health systems?
BJC is recognized as one of the most successful healthcare delivery systems in the country. We are unique because we are one of the largest safety net providers in this region, providing care to those who are underinsured or uninsured and who don’t have the ability to pay for their care. We are a rural community provider with several community hospitals in the marketplace and have a subspecialized children’s hospital in St. Louis Children’s Hospital. We also have a nationally recognized academic medical center in Barnes‐Jewish Hospital, as well as a partnership with Washington University and its School of Medicine, which is recognized nationally and internationally for its academic and research capabilities.
This diverse portfolio within one system is relatively unique in comparison to other large systems across the country.
Outside of healthcare, what is BJC committed to?
We are strong proponents of education and improving the long‐term health and viability of our communities. We initiated a program called the BJC Book Brigade where every public school child receives a new book to read the summer before entering third grade. The collection of books is open to everyone, including patients, BJC employees, family and friends.
Last year we announced the BJC Scholars Fund. The scholarship opportunity is open to high school seniors planning to pursue a two or four‐year degree at a public Missouri or Illinois state college or university in their state of residence. The scholarship offers need‐based awards of $10,000 per academic year, and hopefully the students find a job locally or better yet, in the healthcare field.
This year we started a pilot project with the Saint Louis Public Schools. We partnered to embed nurses and social workers in some of the public schools to help keep students in school so they don’t miss classes.
Those are just three examples of our commitment beyond the four walls of our hospitals that help improve the health of our community.
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