How Did I Get Here? – Frank Sardone

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Hunter Brumels
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Frank Sardone, president and chief executive officer at Bronson Healthcare, walks us through his journey to leadership.


1957 | BORN IN AKRON, OHIO

I was born in Akron. I grew up in a family of five children, although before I was born, there were only two—so I came right in the middle. We’d moved from Ohio to South Carolina by the time I was three, and we finally landed in Danville, Kentucky, when I was still in elementary school. I feel like a lot of the passion I have for leadership and service came from those days, growing up and watching my parents. They were deeply involved in their community and with organizations like the United Way. They always worked to help people and serve their community, so that’s something I’ve carried with me since childhood.

1979, 1981 | RECEIVED BACHELOR’S AND MASTER’S DEGREES FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY

I remember college as a major time for learning. I got my Bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky. Even though Lexington is really just up the road from Danville, it’s a lot different. Lexington isn’t huge, but it’s much bigger than what I’d known before. For me, college came with exposure to tons of people from different backgrounds and lifestyles I hadn’t previously been familiar with. I stuck around after my Bachelor’s degree and earned my Master’s at the University of Kentucky as well, and it all just became this crucial growing experience for me.

1981 | WASTED NO TIME AND WENT STRAIGHT TO WORK WITH HUMANA

I didn’t take time off after school—not for a job search or anything. I didn’t even step away to interview; I found my first job with Humana right on my college’s campus. This was when Humana was one of the largest hospital-management companies in the country. Even from the outside, the job and the company really appealed to me, and I started working with Humana as a management specialist. I learned about the complete operation of hospitals. Like I said, I’d always felt drawn toward opportunities for service, toward positions in which I could help people. I’d wanted something that combined business and people, which that first job did. I moved from Kentucky to Chicago for Humana, which was a whole new growing experience in itself.

1984 | HEADED BACK TO DANVILLE, KENTUCKY

I was with Humana for a few years before I happened upon the chance to head back to my hometown of Danville, Kentucky. I found a job there at the Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center, where I got to try some new things but also put my skills from school and Humana to work. My title during that time was director of marketing and planning, which was a bit different from what I’d been doing at Humana. One of the most memorable things about that time overall is the huge amount of change that was going through the healthcare system as a whole. Looking back, I see that the most consistent thing in the healthcare field has always been change. Things are always evolving and adapting, and the same was true when I was early in my career.

1988 | JOINED BRONSON HEALTHCARE AS ADMINISTRATOR OF INPATIENT SERVICES

After a few more years of work, I landed at Bronson Healthcare. It’s hard to summarize my 31 years with the company, but it was simpler at one time. At first, I was the administrator of inpatient services. I’d gone from working with Humana in a human-centered and business-heavy role to this new role at Bronson where I was working in what we call “service line”—which really just means I was working in tons of disciplines around various sectors of the hospital. I got involved in operations, clinical work, personal interactions, and business matters. My first role at Bronson really served to introduce me to many of the areas I’ve come to work with in the decades since.

1996 | BECAME PRESIDENT AND CEO OF BRONSON

And just like the rest of the healthcare system, a lot has changed at Bronson since I started. In 1996, I was promoted to president and CEO of the company. We’ve grown since then from 2,000 to 9,000 total employees. I do my best to remember names, but I can tell you it’s gotten tough over time, just because of our growth. Our footprint has spread; we’ve grown up from being a hospital to being an entire healthcare system that spans something like a hundred miles across the region. Since I started in 1988, Bronson has grown into a healthcare system that can provide tailored care to any patient—and there will only be more of that in the future.

2005 | BRONSON RECEIVES MALCOLM BALDRIDGE NATIONAL QUALITY AWARD

At the time, only 64 companies had ever received this honor since the program began in 1988 and only five in healthcare. We participated in the process to learn from other high performing organizations. We were the first healthcare organization to be awarded recognition on the first site visit! Bronson was and still is on a journey to excellence, continuously raising the bar as we benchmark our performance against best practice organizations in healthcare and in other industries. Everyone at Bronson works so hard to be the best because it is the right thing to do for the patients and families we serve.

TODAY AND TOMORROW | LOOKING FORWARD TO SERVICE

One of the main things that’s kept me happy and productive in my career is the community service mindset that has guided my life’s decisions. I remember feeling inspired watching my parents serve others. In my role now, the focus on people—the focus on patients—that’s what’s important. It’s all about keeping an attitude of service, working for that human connection and change in the community. We’ve been working on a project which looks at the homeless population that utilizes our emergency departments. We’re working to identify what these people really need, how we can best address their healthcare necessities, and, further, how we can pull these people out of their current condition. We’ve incorporated equity into our strategic plan and overall. We’re really proud of Bronson’s work because lots of what we do is to encourage people to take on volunteer roles in the community—to really work toward empowerment in that way. Over time, my role has evolved to focus more on long-term strategic planning than on the day-to-day—but in the end, it’s always about the people.

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