In late 2006, Peter Bergmann's career brought him home to Buffalo, N.Y. A little more than two years later, a promotion put him at the helm of the hospital where his mother worked as an anesthesiologist for 23 years.
As a native, Bergmann, 38, can (and does) speak frankly, and with affection, of winters in western New York and it was his insider's knowledge that convinced one doctor he would be “uniquely suited” to meet the healthcare and market challenges facing Sisters of Charity Hospital when Buffalo's Catholic Health System sought a new chief executive for the teaching hospital in late 2006.
“I knew it the minute that he walked in,” says Philip Aliotta, a doctor and executive board member of four-hospital Catholic Health System who was on the search committee that selected Bergmann. The young executive's energy and confidence impressed Aliotta, as did his commitment to Catholic healthcare and teamwork, the physician says. The subsequent three years—which included a shotgun merger with St. Joseph Hospital in nearby Cheektowaga, N.Y.—have not diminished that opinion, Aliotta says.
Bergmann has demonstrated that consensus-building leadership style in the recent rushed merger that landed him as chief executive of a two-campus hospital, he says.
Sisters of Charity began operating St. Joseph Hospital as a second campus in April after New York state waived its decision to shutter the hospital. St. Joseph was among the hospitals mandated to close by New York as part of the state's plan to eliminate waste and excess capacity. Catholic Health System successfully appealed and was allowed to move 123 licensed beds to the hospital from the Sisters of Charity.
Bergmann was appointed CEO of both hospitals on Jan. 1 and faced a four-month deadline to complete the merger. Aliotta says he appointed leaders from both organizations and has been attentive and accessible to physicians. “He's an open person,” Aliotta says.
Bergmann shepherded the two hospitals through the accelerated process of combining the operations, which included credentialing 300 St. Joseph physicians to practice at the Sisters of Charity and creating standard policies and procedures at both organizations. During the process, he says he kept in contact with a network of top executives and consultants as resources—even former professors at Cornell University, where he earned a master's degree in health administration.
Bergmann says he is excited about the newly combined hospital's future. The union allowed a hospital “integral to the community” to remain open, and St. Joseph's campus now operates in the black, he says. The chief executive's next challenge: closer integration to create a more dynamic and successful organization, he says.