Medical center’s CEO has fresh look

He hadn’t even come into the world yet in the ’70s when the first test tube baby was born, when CAT scans were invented.

He was in diapers in the ’80s when the HIV virus was identified, when the nation’s first pediatric trauma center opened.

One thing is certain: It would be impossible to accuse Larry Barnard, appointed in February as CEO of University Medical Center, of being too old for his new job.

It would easily be possible, however, to say the 34-year-old West Point graduate — he’s less than half the age of UMC chief of staff, Dr. Dale Carrison — has hit the ground running. He’s now known as the UMC CEO who sends emails at midnight.

“UMC has a lot of opportunities we must act on,” he explained as we sat in a UMC conference room.

What he wants to do soon is bring back surgeons who diverted their work elsewhere after they said UMC’s top brass did little when they complained about inefficiently managed operating rooms, which led to long waits for patients and delayed surgeries. In 2009, one doctor who brought $9 million in annual charges to UMC took his work to other hospitals.

“We’re reaching out to doctors,” said Barnard, who says UMC now pays more attention to seemingly small details, whether it’s the location of supplies, color coding of lab samples or how patients are greeted.

When the most efficient process is implemented for the turnaround time between surgical cases — where everything and everybody is in the right place at the right time — then patients are happier, and the number of cases done daily increases, all of which helps UMC’s bottom line, Barnard noted.

There are those in the medical community who I’ve talked with — none of whom wanted to be quoted — who suggest Barnard’s relative youth is a serious shortcoming, that he surely couldn’t have the seasoning necessary to make UMC more of a hospital of choice for both physicians and patients.

Yet they admitted they didn’t know that prior to coming to UMC 18 months ago as chief operating officer, he held similar budgetary positions at for-profit hospitals for seven years, including stints at Valley and Summerlin hospitals.

“It doesn’t matter,” a doctor told me. “He’s just too young.”

Unfortunately in life, there are always those who think you’re too young or too old for going after what you want, people who believe there is some — though still undetermined — magical chronological age for when your time has come.

They are, in fact, the critics Teddy Roosevelt once eloquently referred to, the individuals who never strive valiantly, who loudly support the status quo and nothing more — “cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Fortunately for the world, neither Bill Gates nor Paul Allen, in their early 20s when they founded Microsoft, waited to find out what the proper time was to start a company. If Ronald Reagan had listened to the majority of pundits — they said his age wouldn’t allow an active presidency — he wouldn’t have become the nation’s top executive at age 69.

The 74-year-old Carrison, a former FBI agent who didn’t become a doctor until the unheard age of 51, says ability trumps age.

“Take Barnard’s budgetary experience, his MBA from USC, and the four years of leadership training he got from West Point, and he seems just what we need,” Carrison said. “He has enthusiasm we haven’t seen here in a long time.”

It was Barnard’s background, according to John O’Reilly, chairman of the UMC Governing Board, that made it easy to forgo a national search and select him as CEO. O’Reilly said Barnard’s fiscal and leadership expertise — interviews with his medical colleagues continually brought up his ability to get things done — is critical for a safety-net, county hospital that has annually found itself around $70 million in the red.

Trained by the Army as a helicopter and fixed-wing pilot, Barnard said his plans for a life of military service — his dad retired as an Army colonel — became less certain after his 2001 graduation from West Point.

Instead of working as a pilot, he was sent by the Army to run the nation’s largest military entrance processing station in Los Angeles, one that dealt with all branches of the military. There, he met doctors going into the service, and the idea of “living a life of service through health care” formed.

After five years in the Army, Barnard left as a captain and got a graduate business degree that took him into health care administration. His first position as an assistant administrator was at an 82-bed hospital in South Carolina where he even learned “the right way to wax the hallways. … It was a great way to learn from the bottom up.”

Barnard said he and his executive team plan on finding a better way to market a hospital that has considerable strengths: The pediatric intensive care unit ranks in the top five nationally for fewest infections; the cardiology center is the most highly recognized in Nevada by the American Heart Association; the trauma center annually garners national praise; and it’s the hospital where the president of the United States would go if he got sick in Las Vegas.

“Have you seen the TV spots from people who share how UMC saved their lives?” an excited Barnard said. “If we can save someone after a horrific accident, we can certainly do everything else. We haven’t told our story effectively, but we will.”

Carrison, who says Barnard seems to have a boundless energy, says he’ll never forget what Barnard told the board when he interviewed for the CEO post.

“He said if they didn’t like what he did to fire him after one year,” Carrison said. “That’s quite a stance to take when you have three little kids at home and a fourth on the way. He’s not hurting for confidence.”

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.

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