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Ron Peterson, Beyond the Resume

From kosher catering to unannounced patient visits, here are some little-known facts about the man who has made an indelible mark on Johns Hopkins.

By Neil A. Grauer

Date: 11/09/2017

Ron Peterson, Beyond the Resume

Ronald R. Peterson describes himself as “very much a Hopkins person”—which also can be said of others in his immediate family. His wife, Elizabeth “Rooney” Peterson, became the Department of Medicine’s first professional fee billing coordinator in 1974. She continued doing administrative work on school of medicine grants and other financial management projects, earned a master’s degree in administrative sciences from Johns Hopkins University, and in 1987, began a career as a part-time consultant, mostly for The Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine departments. In 1998, she began volunteering at the Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives, where she still works.

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The Petersons’ daughter, Susan, graduated in 2009 from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, completed her residency in the Johns Hopkins Department of Emergency Medicine, and is now an assistant professor of emergency medicine.

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Asked how he developed his passion for accuracy and detail, Peterson observes that his father, the co-owner of a small roofing and sheet metal business, did its bookkeeping and paid close attention to the details of that little business. “So maybe that’s where I got it,” he says.

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As a high school student and undergraduate at The Johns Hopkins University, Peterson focused on a medical career—although his mother “always hoped” he would become a minister. “I always thought I was going to become a doctor. So I think I brought all these things together—because, in many ways, I think we do the Lord’s work here.”

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After graduating from The Johns Hopkins University in 1970–and entering a master’s program for health care administration–Ron Peterson was a science teacher in the Baltimore City Public Schools system and worked on weekends for Schleider Caterers, then a prominent kosher firm in the city. A longtime, dedicated congregant at his Harford County church, Peterson nonetheless knows exactly how to cater a bar mitzvah, bat mitzvah or Jewish wedding.

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Peterson regularly makes unannounced visits to patients at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. “I do it every single week, several patients,” he says. “It’s a way of keeping in touch with the real reason I went into this business in the first place–but it’s also a way to keep in touch with your customer base.” He knows that most problem-solving is done by the nurses, so he gives out his business cards at the nursing stations, reminding them never to hesitate to call him if they need his assistance.

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When Baltimore City issued a “request for proposal” (RFP) for private healthcare companies to submit bids for taking over the management of the beleaguered Baltimore City Hospitals in 1982, Peterson and the Hopkins Hospital president, Robert Heyssel, quickly devised a way to compete against for-profit hospital management companies. They put together a shell corporation solely to be able to have the right to bid on the City Hospitals contract. They named that shell corporation “Broadway Medical Management.” From that curious beginning, it has grown into a significant private corporation known as Johns Hopkins Medical Management, headed by Gill Wylie, which oversees all of Johns Hopkins Medicine’s healthcare and outpatient surgery centers in Maryland.

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With his retirement in January, Ron Peterson will conclude a near-record-setting tenure as head of the Johns Hopkins Health System after 21 years and the Hopkins Hospital, from which he retired in 2016 after 20 years. He has matched or exceeded the 20-year tenures of two predecessors as hospital president, Russell Nelson, who served from 1952 to 1972, and Robert Heyssel, who served from 1972 to 1992. That places him third only to Winford Smith, a 1903 graduate of the school of medicine who served as Hopkins Hospital’s head for 35 years – 1911 to 1946; and Smith’s predecessor, Henry Hurd, who led the hospital for 22 years, 1889 to 1911.

A 'Hopkins Person' Beyond Compare: After 44 years, Ronald R. Peterson looks back on accomplishments that have marked his singular career at Johns Hopkins Medicine.