People who have worked with John Ferguson tend to use the word "visionary" a lot. Perhaps they mean "clairvoyant." Ferguson had the foresight to look at a community hospital in New Jersey and see its potential as a regional force that could compete with New York's — and indeed the nation's — finest facilities for specialized healthcare services.
Ferguson, 58, is president and chief executive officer of Hackensack (N.J.) University Medical Center, a position he has held for the past 21 years. He arrived there in 1981 as senior vice president of professional services. Within four years he became senior vice president and chief operating officer, and a year later he was CEO.
“He had a vision many, many years ago, a transformation of Hackensack from a community hospital to a nationwide, well-respected medical center,” says Joseph Simunovich, chairman of the hospital foundation's board of trustees and a member of the hospital's board for 15 years.
“John has provided the kind of leadership that could see 16 years ago where we could be today,” Simunovich adds. In 1988, when he was named an Up & Comer at the age of 39, Ferguson said that building relationships with physicians and nurses was critical to the hospital's success. According to Robert Garrett, the hospital's executive vice president and chief operating officer, Ferguson led the charge for Hackensack to receive the coveted Magnet award for nursing. One of the first hospitals to receive the designation, Hackensack has twice been re-certified as a Magnet hospital.
Ferguson also made a point of recruiting physicians in service areas such as bone-marrow transplants, cardiac surgery, medical oncology, orthopedics and urology, Garrett says. In addition, over the past decade, the hospital has roughly doubled its square footage. “Our facilities are all new or majorly renovated,” Garrett says. “All the new facilities have private rooms, and all the ones that have
been renovated have private rooms.”
A leader in cardiology, the hospital also recently completed a new 300,000-square-foot facility for women and children, and it is in the process of establishing what Simunovich calls “an outstanding oncology center.”
Garrett says Ferguson has fostered an environment that allows employees to challenge themselves and take on responsibility. “I think there's a lot of job satisfaction for people who work for and around John because he really does give people an opportunity to do their own jobs and flourish in their jobs,” he says. “But make no mistake about it; he really does hold people accountable for their jobs and for good results.”
By bringing in top-notch workers and creating an environment that makes them want to stay, Ferguson has achieved his vision of creating a nationally recognized teaching hospital and medical center, his colleagues say.
“We're matched up against the best that New York has to offer and the country has to offer,” Simunovich says. “We're near the top of that list, if not at the top.”