BRATTLEBORO — After more than a decade as president and CEO of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Steve Gordon will be retiring next April.
“It has been both a privilege and honor to be part of the BMH family and our community for the last decade but I look forward to spending more time with our family, which now includes five grandchildren,” Gordon wrote in an email announcing his decision.
“This is where I want to end my career, here in Brattleboro,” Gordon told the Reformer last week.
Gordon has spent more than 45 years in health care and hospital management. Prior to joining BMH in February 2011, he served as president and CEO of Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton, Mass., and as the chief administrative officer for Children’s Hospital Boston in Waltham. He also spent seven years as vice president of physician services and business development at Newton Wellesley Hospital/Partners Healthcare and 13 years as president and CEO of Parkland Medical Center in Derry, N.H.
Gordon’s retirement is scheduled for April 30, 2022, one month before his 67th birthday.
“I was very apprehensive about it,” he said. “This is all I’ve known. I’ve worked only in hospitals. It’s been a great career and I’ve really enjoyed working with all these great people. It’s not without some sadness, but it’s the right time to make this move. I feel really good about where the hospital is at right now, which has a great medical staff and management team in place.”
Gordon said he and his wife, Sharon, who is a registered nurse at BMH, are also moving out of their neighborhood on Hillwinds Road in Brattleboro.
“We love our neighbors and we love the neighborhood,” he said. “We have thoroughly enjoyed our time here. But at this point, we just want to be closer to our families in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.”
William Daley, chairman of the BMH board, said Gordon has provided outstanding leadership during his 11 years at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.
“We are incredibly grateful for his inspiration, vision and his friendship,” said Daley. “He has guided our hospital in very turbulent times in health care, especially these last 18 months through the pandemic. Steve has been a valued member of our community and we thank him for his service. He will be missed and we wish him well in his retirement.”
Jeff Tieman, the president and CEO of the Vermont Association of Hospitals & Health Systems (VAHHS), said Gordon’s leadership has made BMH a more inclusive and welcoming place.
“As chair of the hospital association, Steve has been instrumental in articulating hospital concerns and priorities to state leaders and key partners, especially during the pandemic,” said Tieman. “We will miss Steve’s voice and passion in the hospital community, as will many others throughout and beyond Vermont. On behalf of hospitals across the state, I thank Steve for his contributions and wish him well in retirement.”
Over the past decade, Gordon has overseen many substantial changes at the hospital, but he was quick to note that he could not have done so without the management team that’s in place.
“I have been CEO for a lot of years at different hospitals, but this is the best management team I have been associated with,” said Gordon.
Gordon also brought on board a new chief medical officer, Dr. Kathleen McGraw, a new chief nursing officer, Jodi Stack, a new chief financial officer, Andre Bissonnette, and a VP of medical group management and population health, Eilidh Pederson, who is now the chief operating officer of the BMH Medical Group. Pederson manages the medical group with its chief medical officer, Dr. Jennifer Funaioli-Sheehan.
Gordon also thanked his facilities manager, Rob Prohaska, for dealing with all the nitty gritty details of the hospital’s campus.
Changes Gordon has overseen include a reconfiguration of the hospital’s main entrance and its Emergency Department, renovation of the operating rooms, upgrading the facility’s power plant, and the planning behind the Ronald Read Pavilion, a new four-story building that will contain three new operating rooms, two floors of medical offices and the expansion of the hospital’s cardiopulmonary rehabilitation services.
Ronald Read, a former gas station employee and janitor who died in June 2014 at 92 had a secret that was not known until after his death. Read had a hidden talent for picking stocks and had made millions of dollars doing so. But he salted that money away and when he died, he donated $4.8 million to BMH and $1.2 million to Brooks Memorial Library.
“God bless Ronald Read,” said Gordon. “It’s such a uniquely Vermont story. Without his donation, we would not have been able to build the building named after him.”
For nearly a decade before his death, Read would come in to the hospital’s cafe almost every day for a cup of coffee and to socialize.
Gordon said Read’s story is emblematic of BMH’s philosophy toward the community.
“Whether it was having coffee in the coffee shop every day or how he was treated as a patient here, we try to treat every patient like that,” he said.
In April 2019, BMH also opened a dental clinic on Canal Street with the United Way of Windham County, the Windham County Dental Center, to provide care for those who are uninsured or on Medicaid.
When Gordon came on board, the hospital was losing about $2.5 million a year, many of the members of the medical staff were planning retirement and the facility needed upgrades.
“Probably one of our biggest challenges other than the facility has been on the medical staff side,” said Gordon. “When I came here, it was predominantly independent medical staff who hung up a shingle 20 or more years ago. But no one can afford to do that any longer because the complexity of running a medical practice is very significant. The hospital had to step in and develop a new model to recruit and retain medical staff, including physicians, nurse practicioners, physician assistants ... all of that.”
Ten years ago, BMH had about eight clinical physicians employed by the hospital, he said.
“Now we are at over 50,” he said. “I leave the hospital feeling good about what we’ve accomplished over my 10 years.”
Recruitment and retention included acquiring a medical practice on Fairview Street, now known as Brattleboro Family Medicine, and opening Putney Family Healthcare.
Gordon said bringing clinicians under the umbrella of the BMH Medical Group might have been “the biggest cultural challenge” undertaken by the administration.
“But if we didn’t do that, we wouldn’t have had the clinicians to serve this community,” he said.
One of the final challenges Gordon has guided the hospital through has been the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We consolidated medical practices, shut down entrances, implemented screening and stopped elective services,” said Gordon. “My entire time here has been spent on growing the hospital and meeting the needs of the community. There has never been such a seismic change for hospitals. And it’s an experience I never want to go through again.”
But Gordon said he was proud of how the hospital community came together to address the challenges of the pandemic.
“That sense of teamwork has gotten us through this,” he said. “Throughout the pandemic, the staff felt safe here and the patients felt safe here.”
During his tenure, BMH established a partnership with the Community College of Vermont to develop a medical assistant program and a nursing program with Vermont Technical College.
“There’s not any one thing we can do to solve the staffing shortage in Vermont, but we are doing what we can to retain staff and train and recruit new staff,” he said. “And it’s not just in Vermont. It’s a national challenge and it’s not just hospitals. It’s also nursing homes, visiting nurses and medical offices.”
BMH is also opening a new rehabilitation clinic at the Vermont Marketplace, the former Outlet Center at Exit 1 on Canal Street. The Vermont Marketplace is owned by the owner of Vermont News & Media, which purchased the Reformer and two other Southern Vermont newspapers in May.
Gordon has also overseen the development of “a strategic partnership” with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., and Cheshire Medical Center, in Keene, N.H., which has expanded services for patients in Brattleboro.
The clinicians who work in the Emergency Department, radiology, cardiology and the hospital’s other departments are shared with Dartmouth and Cheshire Medical, he said.
“As a small hospital, we could never have the quality of these physicians on our own,” said Gordon. “With Cheshire and Dartmouth, we have been able to significantly increase the quality of patient care. And with Cheshire Medical we are creating a regional health care system serving people on both sides of the Connecticut River.”
Gordon said he and his wife don’t have any plans other than moving to New Hampshire, though after he has taken some time to decompress, he might do some consulting work.
“It’s now time for somebody else to come in and take it to the next level,” he said.
"When we conducted the last CEO search, it was clear Steve would be an unrelenting advocate for BMH, and he's done an outstanding job over the years," said Ben Taggard, a former member of the BMH board. "He has been masterful in his ability to keep the hospital locally focused and controlled, while creating partnerships in the broader hospital community, something we certainly lacked beforehand. His leadership has been essential, helping BMH thrive in a healthcare environment that becomes more complex with each passing year, and particularly in light of the pandemic. In addition, his involvement and leadership helping so many organizations and causes in the area, including Rotary, Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce, Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., Boys and Girls Club, Visiting Nurse and Hospice of NH/VT, Chair of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, and others, has made it clear that his commitment to the community extends well beyond the BMH campus."