A career of distinction
Date: December 16, 2011
Robert Sloan announces the end of his more than 25 years at the helm of Sibley Memorial Hospital.
Robert L. Sloan, president and CEO of Sibley Memorial Hospital, traces his distinguished career back to the days when he was an orderly working the midnight shift at a community hospital near Chicago. It was the mid-1960s, a time when the then college student often helped the nursing supervisor prepare accident victims for surgery before the on-call emergency room doctor arrived.
One of the moments he remembers best, however, came on a night when he noticed the hospital’s administrator making rounds at 3 a.m. “When I asked the nurses what he did, they said he ran the business of the hospital,” Sloan recalls. “I remember thinking, Now that would be a fascinating career!”
The Indiana native went on to serve with distinction commanding a communications intercept detachment on the Thai-Cambodia border during the Vietnam War. After receiving a graduate degree from George Washington University, he began his 38-year career in hospital administration—26 of them at the helm of Sibley.
Sloan recently announced that he will retire next July. Until then, he will continue to oversee the transition of the historic hospital in northwest Washington, D.C., into the family of Johns Hopkins Medicine, a move he says will secure its future health.
“We were attracted to Johns Hopkins because of its commitment to excellence, its predictability and its sustainability,” he says. “I think it’s an excellent partnership that will only grow stronger.”
Sloan works closely with Suburban Hospital CEO Brian Gragnolati, president of Suburban Hospital and senior vice president of the Johns Hopkins Health System, and other leaders at Johns Hopkins Medicine on plans for Hopkins’ National Capital Region, the area served by Sibley and Suburban.
“Sibley provides a market extension into the nation’s capital for Johns Hopkins,” Sloan says. “We provide greater access to international business because we are literally located at the head of Embassy Row. And Johns Hopkins will be able to expand its clinical services in oncology, geriatrics, surgery and primary care. While we will help Hopkins develop a geographically broader network, Hopkins will also help us grow.”
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing community hospitals is maintaining and building relationships with their community-based physicians, according to Ronald R. Peterson, president of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System and executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Because there is a need for primary care physicians who accept insurance in Sibley’s service area, Johns Hopkins Community Physicians is helping the hospital establish primary care practices that accept insurance at the new medical office building on its campus. “Those primary care practitioners will be devoted to the purpose of serving at Sibley Hospital,” Peterson says.
The new medical office building, constructed under the direction of Senior Vice President Jerry Price, is one of many achievements at Sibley that have occurred under Sloan’s leadership. Over the years, he has helped improve and expand clinical services, technology, facilities, finances and personnel. For example, the campus has grown to 20 acres—thanks to the acquisition of eight acres from the federal government—and now includes Grand Oaks, an assisted living community, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation unit, and a residential Alzheimer’s unit. A radiation oncology center is under construction, and a new hospital and emergency department are being designed.
Sibley has also maintained a positive net operating margin strictly from hospital operations during Sloan’s tenure. “That took a lot of hard budgeting, a lot of cost control on behalf of the management and staff at Sibley,” he says.
Since Sloan became president in 1985, more than 2,000 employees have received cash awards through a program that gives credit to the exemplary efforts of all non-management staff members, including housekeepers, dietary and nursing assistants, and other groups.
Peterson calls his colleague “a very mission- and service-minded individual,” a fact underscored by his lengthy leadership.
In retirement, Sloan will continue to serve as board president of the Jane Bancroft Robinson Foundation, an organization created by Sibley to provide grants to churches and faith-based organizations that provide health care to the poor. He may also act as a senior adviser to Johns Hopkins Medicine in a role that is yet to be determined. Married for 39 years, he and his wife, Janet, have three children and five grand-children.
Gragnolati describes Sloan as the kind of leader who engages with charitable work “in a quiet way” and remains modest about his accomplishments.
“Bob’s taken a wonderful organization and been able to amass enough funding to bring in a new patient care center, on-site physician offices and new technology in areas like cancer care and surgery,” he says. “He’s well on his way to having completely recapitalized Sibley’s campus. And now he’s delivered what Sibley needs to be successful for the years to come: He’s helped it become part of the world’s most renowned health system.”