Wil­liam L. Bradley

Leav­ing a le­gacy

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - PROFILES - LARA JO HIGHTOWER

Bill Bradley calls the years he’s spent as Washington Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter’s chief ex­ec­u­tive “a dream come true.” “When I lived in Tulsa, we would come over to a foot­ball game or over to visit Beaver Lake or some­thing on oc­ca­sion,” says Bradley. “Ev­ery time I would drive by Washington Re­gional, I would tell my wife, ‘My dream job would be to be CEO of Washington Re­gional.’”

When he re­tires af­ter 13 years of ser­vice this Novem­ber, he’ll leave be­hind a strong le­gacy, says WRMC board mem­ber Woody Bas­sett.

“He has left a last­ing mark and leaves a strong foun­da­tion upon which to launch the fu­ture for the med­i­cal sys­tem,” Bas­sett says. “That’s why we put his name on a brand new build­ing at Washington Re­gional.

“Per­haps Bill’s finest le­gacy is that he showed all of us that any­thing is pos­si­ble at Washington Re­gional.”

“I be­lieve Bill is leav­ing an eter­nal le­gacy,” says Fayet­teville Cham­ber of Com­merce Pres­i­dent Steve Clark. “Through his ac­tions and words, he has writ­ten his name on the heart of vir­tu­ally all he has met. He is that per­son that sees around the cor­ner and works to solve that prob­lem or lever­age that op­por­tu­nity be­fore it be­comes a cri­sis or op­por­tu­nity lost.”


Bradley says his affin­ity for con­tribut­ing to the suc­cess of hos­pi­tals hit him early: His fa­ther, a den­tist who served in both the Navy and the Air Force, en­cour­aged Bradley to vol­un­teer at the Veter­ans Ad­min­is­tra­tion Hos­pi­tal in Lit­tle Rock on school breaks.

“My dad al­ways in­sisted that I do some­thing pro­duc­tive,” says Bradley. “That was re­ally the be­gin­ning of my ex­po­sure to health care and hos­pi­tals and that sort of

“[Bill Bradley] is ex­cep­tion­ally good at what he does. His steady lead­er­ship and ex­cel­lent man­age­ment skills have been in­stru­men­tal in the ex­tra­or­di­nary growth of Washington Re­gional’s med­i­cal sys­tem and med­i­cal cen­ter and in the enor­mous ex­pan­sion of health care ser­vices for the com­mu­nity.”

— Woody Bas­sett

thing. I thank him in hind­sight for mak­ing me do that be­cause it re­ally in­tro­duced me to what has been my life’s work.”

Bradley and his fam­ily were in Bon­ham, Texas, where his fa­ther had a den­tal prac­tice, when Bradley’s mother un­ex­pect­edly passed away. Bradley was in the ninth grade.

“She had a sud­den car­diac death,” says Bradley. “It’s ob­vi­ously per­ma­nently etched in my mem­ory. We were watch­ing tele­vi­sion, she and I, and all I re­mem­ber is her say­ing, ‘Oh, oh.’ Then she fell out of her chair. I went to get my dad, he asked me to go to the neigh­bor’s house, and that was it.

“It was ob­vi­ously a life-chang­ing event, but life throws a lot of curve balls at all sorts of peo­ple.”

Bradley’s fa­ther took him and his sis­ter back to his home­town, Lit­tle Rock, where he could get help with the chil­dren from fam­ily.

“It was a tough move, be­cause I had to leave a lot of my friends that I had kind of grown up with in ele­men­tary and ju­nior high,” re­calls Bradley. “But it is what it is. What’s the old say­ing? ‘Tem­pered steel is the strong­est?’ So I think that’s part of the process.”

Af­ter high school, Bradley headed up north to the Univer­sity of Arkansas to study in­dus­trial en­gi­neer­ing, where, he says, he “fell in love with Fayet­teville.” He also fell in love with his wife, Stephanie.

“I was raised in the church, but she got me rein­ter­ested in it as a col­lege stu­dent,” he says. “We went to Univer­sity Bap­tist Church, and I think that’s when my faith be­came much more im­por­tant to me.

“She’s been a great part­ner for me my whole ca­reer. She’s the glue in our fam­ily, and I couldn’t have been more for­tu­nate.” He pauses for a mo­ment. “I’d bet­ter stop talk­ing about it, or I’ll start cry­ing.”


When he grad­u­ated from the univer­sity, he de­cided to fol­low his fa­ther’s foot­steps into the Air Force.

“My claim to fame in the Air Force is that I was at three dif­fer­ent air bases, none of which ever had an air­plane,” he says. He was of­fered the op­por­tu­nity to go through pi­lot train­ing while serv­ing, but he turned it down.

“You get sep­a­rated from your fam­ily a lot more,” he ex­plains, and, laugh­ing, adds, “The other as­pect of it is that you don’t know what kind of plane you’re go­ing to get when you start. If I knew I was go­ing to be driv­ing a sports car ver­sus a bus, I might have been much more tempted.”

Bradley served at an Air Force base in Turkey for two years, where, he says, he and Stephanie found them­selves fairly iso­lated from their Amer­i­can lives.

“There was no tele­vi­sion,” he says. “We had Armed Forces Ra­dio, and they had a movie the­ater on the base.

“[Stephanie and I] took a course in Turk­ish lan­guage

— the ba­sics. So if you would go off the base out into a lo­cal vil­lage or some­thing you could say ‘Hi, how are you, thank you, how much is this?’ — those kinds of very lim­ited in­ter­ac­tions. I re­mem­ber it took about six weeks, and then we worked up to our first trip off of the base. We were pretty ex­cited. We walked into this store that sold a lot of brass and cop­per, which was com­mon over there, and the first words out of the shop­keeper’s mouth were ‘Hi! Can I help you? Would you like a Pepsi?’ In English. I thought, ‘I think I just wasted about six weeks of my life.’”

Though Bradley con­sid­ered mak­ing a ca­reer out of the Air Force, ul­ti­mately, he de­cided against it. The first job he would get out­side of the ser­vice served to demon­strate to him what ca­reer field not to go into.

“I liked it for about a day,” he says, wryly, of the job, which was in­for­ma­tion sys­tems ori­ented. “It prob­a­bly would have re­sulted in a de­cent ca­reer, but it just didn’t have the peo­ple, team ori­en­ta­tion that I was look­ing for. It was the dif­fer­ence between a job and a call­ing.” He stayed for about a year, un­til he saw an ad in the Tulsa news­pa­per for a po­si­tion at St. John Hos­pi­tal. When he ap­plied and got the job, he says, it was im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent that he had found that call­ing.

“If the se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tor of the hos­pi­tal thought a depart­ment had a par­tic­u­lar is­sue that they wanted ad­dressed and re­searched, they sent me there,” says Bradley. An ex­am­ple: Bradley was sent to study the pro­cesses in cen­tral ster­ile sup­ply when it seemed to the pow­ers-that-be that things could be hap­pen­ing more quickly in that depart­ment.

“They made the carts that went up to surgery, and on the carts would be ev­ery­thing that was needed from a sup­ply stand­point for that par­tic­u­lar case,” Bradley says. “They had an assem­bly line of how it was done, and I spent ev­ery day for about 10 weeks in that depart­ment, fig­ur­ing out why they were hav­ing trou­ble keep­ing up with the de­mand. My fo­cus was, ‘How could that assem­bly line be run more ef­fi­ciently? If they needed ad­di­tional la­bor, where would the right place to put that be?’

“I felt like I knew what was go­ing on in that depart­ment so well af­ter 10 weeks that if some­one called in sick, I could do their job. It couldn’t have been a bet­ter be­gin­ning job for what I wound up do­ing with my ca­reer.”

“En­gi­neers are prob­lem solvers, and Bill has al­ways been that per­son who is the first to see the prob­lem or op­por­tu­nity and then craft ac­tion to ad­dress [it],” ob­serves Clark.

Bradley would spend four years at St. John, study­ing ev­ery nook and cranny of a work­ing hos­pi­tal. That was fol­lowed by a stint as a con­sul­tant with ac­count­ing gi­ant Peat Mar­wick that found him trav­el­ing around the coun­try, learn­ing from hos­pi­tals in dif­fer­ent re­gions.

“At St. John, I got ex­po­sure to the core of the hos­pi­tal and prob­lems within the de­part­ments to work on,” he says. “But that was just St. John. When you go to a firm like Peat Mar­wick, it’s a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent hos­pi­tals, so I was again blessed with some very good ex­pe­ri­ence there.”

But, he says, it was when he as­cended to the CEO po­si­tion at a hos­pi­tal at the ten­der age of 33 that he re­ally hit his stride.

“I had a 200-bed hos­pi­tal in Po­plar Bluff, Mo., and that’s when my ca­reer, as it was go­ing to be, be­gan.

I en­joyed it im­mensely. I was at that hos­pi­tal for nine years, and what I found out there is the value of your team­mates in a hos­pi­tal and the chal­lenge of work­ing with physi­cians closely. I found out, ‘You know, I re­ally like this.’”


Fast for­ward to 2004, when the road that be­gan with him vol­un­teer­ing at the VA Hos­pi­tal as a teenager led to his “dream job” at Washington Re­gional.

“I love it here,” says Bradley. “The big at­trac­tion to me here is that it’s lo­cally owned and gov­erned. You get a lot bet­ter de­ci­sions made that way. Our Board of Di­rec­tors and se­nior man­age­ment all live here. They have been pa­tients in the hos­pi­tal. We’re not com­pet­ing against other hos­pi­tals for fund­ing. We kind of make our own way.

“And I think the fact that the com­mu­nity is so vested in Washington Re­gional and feels some own­er­ship of it them­selves is a big plus for this hos­pi­tal and health sys­tem, as well.”

If you talk to Bradley for any length of time, the word “change” will come up fre­quently. WRMC it­self has cer­tainly gone through a great deal of change un­der Bradley’s lead­er­ship.

“The old adage is that a pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words,” says Bradley. “If you just took a pic­ture of this cam­pus when the hos­pi­tal was moved from North Col­lege, it’s now twice the size as it was then.”

“Un­der his lead­er­ship, Washington Re­gional went through some of the best eco­nomic times North­west Arkansas ever ex­pe­ri­enced and some of the very worst eco­nomic times, with bank­rupt­cies and fore­clo­sures be­com­ing the daily head­line,” says Clark. He points out that Bradley avoided lay­offs dur­ing the worst of the eco­nomic down­turn by cre­at­ing a sys­tem that re­duced all staff salaries a small per­cent­age rather than elim­i­nat­ing po­si­tions out­right. “Bill man­aged all of that with his steady hand and com­mit­ment to help­ing others.” Clark goes on to name some of the ini­tia­tives ac­com­plished by WRMC un­der Bradley’s ten­ure: The cre­ation of new cen­ters like the Cen­ter for Health Ser­vices, which pro­vided the re­gion with the Walker Heart In­sti­tute and Ozark Urol­ogy out­pa­tient and di­ag­nos­tic ser­vices; the Pat Walker Cen­ter for Se­niors and the Cen­ter for Ex­er­cise; the Wil­lard Walker Hospice Home; the To­tal Joint Cen­ter; the mobile den­tal clinic; Pri­mary Stroke Cen­ter; the first Ron­ald McDon­ald House in the area; the Women and In­fants Cen­ter — the list goes on and on.

“Washington Re­gional’s march to ex­cel­lence, I be­lieve, be­gan with Bill Bradley’s lead­er­ship,” says Clark.

For David G. Rat­cliff, WRMC’s chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer, the es­tab­lish­ment of a ded­i­cated in­ten­sivist pro­gram at the be­gin­ning of Bradley’s ten­ure is a stand­out ac­com­plish­ment.

“In the fall of 2004, Washington Re­gional be­came the first hos­pi­tal in our re­gion — and to my knowl­edge, in the state

— to have a ded­i­cated in­ten­sivist pro­gram,” says Rat­cliff. “This has been sup­ported by the Na­tional Qual­ity Fo­rum as one of the ‘Best Prac­tices,’ and was one of the first three Leapfrog group-en­dorsed stan­dards of ex­cel­lence in qual­ity of care. It was a sig­nif­i­cant cap­i­tal com­mit­ment to staff our crit­i­cal care units with a boarded crit­i­cal care spe­cial­ist who pro­vide ded­i­cated con­tin­u­ous bed­side care to our pa­tients for more than 200 man-hours per week. This ser­vice, com­bined with fur­ther com­mit­ment of re­sources by the hos­pi­tal, has en­abled our hos­pi­tal to pro­vide a level of care that is typ­i­cally only found in large aca­demic cen­ters and to par­tic­i­pate in many na­tional ICU per­for­mance im­prove­ment projects.

“From my per­spec­tive, Bill’s le­gacy to all of us en­trusted go­ing for­ward with op­er­at­ing the won­der­ful com­mu­nity as­set that is Washington Re­gional is to pro­ceed with a will­ing­ness to em­brace change, be open to in­no­va­tive meth­ods of de­liv­er­ing care and be­ing re­im­bursed for that care and to strive to po­si­tion Washington Re­gional to de­liver the high­est and best clin­i­cal ser­vices that can be found at any hos­pi­tal in our state or na­tion,” says Thomas J. Olm­stead, se­nior vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral coun­sel at WRMC. “Our com­mu­nity de­serves such a hos­pi­tal, and Bill has done a great deal to de­liver it.”


“Healthcare is very chal­leng­ing,” says Bradley. “It seems like it’s al­ways chang­ing. But the rea­son that peo­ple go through all of the adapt­abil­ity that’s re­quired to thrive in this en­vi­ron­ment is that they want to make a dif­fer­ence. There are a lot of things I like about my job, but I am the proud­est of my em­ploy­ees, my team­mates in this hos­pi­tal. They’re the ones that re­ally ap­ply that and make a dif­fer­ence ev­ery day.

“Ev­ery­where I’ve been, I’ve had good ex­ec­u­tive teams. This is the best one I’ve ever had, so that makes it hard to leave.”

In ad­di­tion to the long list of ac­com­plish­ments and ini­tia­tives spurred on at WRMC dur­ing his ten­ure, Bradley will also leave be­hind a new med­i­cal build­ing named in his honor. The Wil­liam L. Bradley Med­i­cal Cen­ter stands at 3 E. Ap­pleby Road, across from the hos­pi­tal cam­pus. Bradley says the honor took him com­pletely by sur­prise.

“It’s very hum­bling,” he says, emo­tion ob­vi­ous in his voice. “I got the no­tice at a board meet­ing that they wanted to do that, and that’s prob­a­bly the most emo­tional that I’ve got­ten. But, you know, that evil ego on your shoul­der starts say­ing, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool,’ and you’re on your way home driv­ing, and each mile on your way home, the closer you get to home, you get more puffed up. I get there and tell my wife, and she says all the things that

a good spouse would say — ‘You de­serve it, you’ve worked hard,’ this kind of stuff — and then within 10 min­utes I was re­minded that I needed to gather up and take out the trash be­cause to­mor­row was trash day. I think that’s a great story be­cause it just of­fers the cor­rect per­spec­tive.”

Bradley will re­main in the po­si­tion of CEO emer­i­tus from Sept. 1, when se­nior vice pres­i­dent J. Larry Shack­elford as­sumes the top po­si­tion, un­til mid-Novem­ber, when he of­fi­cially re­tires. Pro­fes­sion­ally, he’s con­sid­er­ing some op­tions post-re­tire­ment, but per­son­ally, there’s no doubt as to how he’ll be spend­ing his time.

“I have 10 good places to spend more time,” he says, re­fer­ring to his grand­chil­dren. On the day of the in­ter­view, he’s ea­gerly an­tic­i­pat­ing a birth­day party for one of those grand­chil­dren and a daugh­ter-in-law, sched­uled to hap­pen that evening. “We have three kids who all live up here, so they’re close by. There are 17 of us. When we go places now, we kind of need a big ta­ble.”

Still, he says, he knows he will miss the peo­ple he works with and see­ing, up close, the work that WRMC does in the com­mu­nity.

“Ev­ery­body wants to be in a ca­reer that makes a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence,” says Bradley. “That’s why most of the 2,700 peo­ple that are here, are here. If there’s any­thing that I think that helps your faith, it’s hav­ing a job that is way big­ger than you. It does won­ders for your per­spec­tive, it does won­ders for your prayer life.

“This is a fas­ci­nat­ing place. You can go to one cor­ner of the build­ing, and some­body is tak­ing their last breath. You go over to an­other part of the build­ing and some­one is tak­ing their first breath. Even to­day, af­ter all of this time and all of these years, it’s an amaz­ing place to me.”



“More than any other client or health care ex­ec­u­tive with whom I have worked in my 20-plus years as a healthcare at­tor­ney, Bill Bradley wel­comes chal­lenges and em­braces op­por­tu­ni­ties to de­ploy novel and un­charted ap­proaches in re­sponse to those chal­lenges.” — Thomas J. Olm­stead

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