Don't overlook dietary services when searching for the healthcare leaders of tomorrow. Anthony Lombardi, who has an undergraduate degree in hotel and restaurant management, began his four decades-plus career in healthcare at the age of 16 washing dishes at the Hospital for Crippled Children in Newark, N.J. Before he graduated from college, he had worked his way up to director of food services at Newark's Columbus Hospital.
"I loved being in the hospitals. Even though I was supposed to wash dishes, I had to fill in serving or packing boxes," Lombardi says. "I said to my mother, `When I go in there, I never know what the dietician is going to ask me to do.' My mother said I would learn that stability is security. Those were wise words, but I'm so glad I never adopted that philosophy."
Well, stability appears to be in the eye of the beholder. Lombardi, who will turn 66 in May, has announced his June 30 retirement as president and CEO after 41 years at 253-bed Monongahela (Pa.) Valley Hospital-38 years in the top spot. He arrived at what was then known as Charleroi-Monessen Hospital in 1963 as assistant administrator after graduate school at George Washington University and an administrative residency at Chicago Wesley Memorial Hospital. Two years later he was suddenly named acting administrator when the administrator, Russell Stone, who was in his mid-40s, had two heart attacks and couldn't work full time.
"I was 28 years old and our controller was on the fourth floor with cancer, our administrator was on the third floor with heart problems and Medicare had to be implemented," Lombardi recalls.
Besides Medicare, Lombardi notes that his career preceded the repeal of charitable immunity, which shielded not-for-profit hospitals from lawsuits. But by far the biggest change-and challenge-was "the advent of government into medicine," he says. He doesn't mind saying he won't miss that.
"My wife said I would probably work another 20 years if it were not for the government. My wife is probably right," Lombardi says. He says he chose healthcare as a profession because "I can make a good living and have a social mission, but little by little the social mission is being taken away. We are being bombarded by regulations. We have to spend more and more time on the business and less and less time on the social mission, and that's a hard balancing act."
So what kept an old pots-and-pans washer from Newark interested in Monongahela for so long? Lombardi says the grand plan originally was to exit for greener pastures after three years, even if his new bride was an area native. But like that first dishwashing job, he was always excited by the prospect that he never knew what was coming next.
Spurred by federal legislation that encouraged hospitals to focus more on business planning, Charleroi-Monessen began talking with its neighbor six miles down the road, Memorial Hospital of Monongahela, he says. Lombardi oversaw the full-asset merger of the two hospitals and in 1976, the construction of a 320-bed replacement hospital. The new hospital cost $15 million to build, "the biggest bargain of the century," Lombardi says.
After that he stayed for the construction of a 400-car parking garage, then a cancer center-the county's first to offer radiation therapy-and a conference center. Last year two stories were added to the cancer center, and they just cut the ribbon on the HealthPlex, a medically integrated facility that includes a fitness center.
The hospital's parent company, Mon-Vale Health Resources, which Lombardi also heads as president and CEO, includes a durable medical-equipment company, a PPO, a transportation company, an 85-unit assisted living community, and 101-bed skilled-care facility. Right now the hospital is doubling the size of its emergency room. That is an $8 million project-more than half of what it cost to build the entire hospital less than 30 years ago.
"If we hadn't done what we did I would have left," Lombardi says. "I can't do the same thing every day."
Retirement for Lombardi won't be all boating and water sports, his hobbies. He says he is considering a couple of consulting and academic offers. "Everyone has to have a purpose for getting up in the morning," he says. "I think I'm going to manage OK, but it will be a very emotional day when I leave here."