Community Leadership Award Winner: John Bardis

Ready to take action: MedAssets' Bardis recognized for leading outreach efforts at home and abroad

Based in Alpharetta, Ga., group purchasing organization and healthcare finance consultancy MedAssets has a 500-employee facility in Saddle River, N.J., an area that found itself in the bull's-eye of superstorm Sandy in October. With about a dozen employees who had lost their homes and many more without power and facing additional inconveniences such as long gas lines, the company's headquarters leapt into action.

“We rallied support for those people,” says Wayne Clark, vice president of corporate outreach. “It involved a couple of us who were formal (corporate outreach employees) and just a bunch of people who pitched in and helped.”

The company sent truckloads of furniture, two tankers of gas and food packages through a pre-existing relationship with Sam's Club (built around a program for sending care packages to soldiers) and helped those who had lost everything find hotel rooms, get a ride to relatives' homes and work through their insurance claims.

“We had five employees who basically stopped their lives to make sure everybody ended up OK,” Clark says, adding that they worked around the clock for about a week. “We had a seven- to 10-day period with phone calls in the middle of the night and whatever.”

Those efforts typify the community-oriented approach of MedAssets and its corporate outreach department, which serves as the catalyst for carrying out such initiatives, says John Bardis, the company's chairman, president and CEO and winner of Modern Healthcare's inaugural Community Leadership Award.

“This is about people who live their lives to serve other people,” says Bardis, 56, referring to the corporate outreach staff and to a 20-person not-for-profit organization called Hire Heroes USA housed at MedAssets' headquarters that helps discharged veterans find career paths. Of the latter, he adds, “These are paid individuals whose life's mission is to assist military veterans in mainstreaming into the U.S. economy.”

Bardis founded and serves as chairman of Hire Heroes, inspired by a disabled veteran whom Bardis met on the street in Washington. The organization, launched in 2007, has placed more than 500 veterans in jobs and provided more than 15,000 others with employment skills, medical treatment and financial support. MedAssets itself now employs 14 people who came in through Hire Heroes.

The veteran Bardis met in Washington had lost his leg in a land mine blast in Afghanistan five weeks earlier. “I sat down next to him, spoke to him, he impressed me, and I felt tremendous compassion for him,” Bardis says. “I felt like he was lost and afraid. You could feel his fear and anxiety palpably, just sitting next to him and talking to him. He was in a strange city getting rehab. He didn't know what his future held. He was staring down the barrel of a future without a leg, not knowing where he was going to end up.”

Hire Heroes has been recognized by the USO and Google for its efforts in training veterans in employment skills, which include offering job skills seminars with at least one instructor for every three to five students, personalized help in creating resumes, mock job interviews, and connections with corporate partners in geographic areas where the veterans would like to settle, says Brian Stann, president and CEO of Hire Heroes.

Stann says Hire Heroes would not exist without the generosity of MedAssets and Bardis. About 80% of the staff is housed in the Georgia headquarters, all IT equipment has been donated by MedAssets and Bardis is always a phone call away, he says.

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MedAssets employees also have prepared and shipped nearly 16,000 care packages to military personnel serving overseas. The company sought recommendations to find out what deployed soldiers wanted in their care packages and created a “super care package” that is sent to members of a pre-selected platoon or company in a war zone every month or two.

This initiative was inspired partly by Bardis' introduction to a Marine named Oscar Canon by former Modern Healthcare Publisher Charles Lauer. Canon went through 77 reconstructive surgeries after his leg and abdomen were blown open by a roadside bomb in 2004. He eventually returned to the front as a military police officer, but he reinjured his leg and died from an infection earlier this year, Bardis says.

“That broke me in half, after all he had been through,” he says. “This guy had given everything, and then to die this way. These are people (who) deserve every American's respect. He's the guy who got us (motivated to send) soldiers care packages. People in the company, they feel this stuff, and they do something about it.”

Bardis also has served on the board of directors of Heart for Africa, which provides orphans and other vulnerable children with long-term financial support coupled with short-term assistance to help with food, water, clothing, healthcare, education and other services. In 2009, Bardis donated more than $1 million, helped raise another $800,000 and spent two weeks volunteering with his family at an organization in Kenya called the Mully Family Children's Homes that aids orphaned and neglected children. It was able to purchase a 2,800-acre tract to grow food and become self-sustaining.

Bardis became interested in Africa after reading a book titled It's Not Okay With Me and meeting author Janine Maxwell and her husband, who lead Heart for Africa. A MedAssets employee dropped Maxwell's book on Bardis' desk. “I read it, and it was one of those situations where you knew you could not look the other way,” Bardis says. “The stories of what was happening to children were literally devastating.”

Bardis recommended the company take action, “and everybody got behind it,” he says. “It's the entire organization led by our outreach group that actually goes and does something about it.”

To encourage similar desires to pay it forward among MedAssets' more than 3,000 employees, Bardis established the Heart and Soul Program, which provides five paid days off a year to serve at a qualified and approved charitable organizations. Employees dedicated more than 3,000 hours to the program in 2011.

“That encourages the employees” to come up with their own ways of giving back, says Clark, who has worked with Bardis for 25 years at four corporations. “The character of a company starts at the top and flows down,” he says. “Everywhere he's gone, the companies have been charitable in their focus and made an effort to try to ease the lives of people who have been in trouble.”

But Bardis insists his team deserves the credit, describing his own role as “somebody who's got another job and thinks this stuff is cool and wants to see it done.”



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