Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Bernard Tyson died Sunday unexpectedly, the integrated health system said.
Tyson, who had led Kaiser since 2013, was one of the most prominent healthcare executives in the country and a leader of healthcare reform, spending 34 years of his career at the health system. He suffered a heart attack in his sleep.
"An outstanding leader, visionary and champion for high-quality, affordable healthcare for all Americans, Bernard was a tireless advocate for Kaiser Permanente, our members and the communities we serve," the health system said in a statement.
Under his leadership as Kaiser's first black CEO, the system's rolls grew 32% from 9.3 million to 12.3 million members, and from $53 billion to $82.8 billion in annual revenue, up 56%.
"Bernard was an exceptional colleague, a passionate leader, and an honorable man. We will greatly miss him," said Kaiser Permanente board member Edward Pei.
Tyson was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and earned his graduate degree in business administration from Golden Gate University. He is survived by his wife, Denise Bradley-Tyson, and three sons. Kaiser immediately named its executive vice president and group president, Gregory A. Adams, as interim chairman and CEO.
Adams will take over a system that was intentionally positioned by Tyson to handle the current challenges facing healthcare systems around the country—providing patient care outside of a hospital's four walls.
During debate over efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Tyson said the law should serve as a baseline for improving healthcare.
Kaiser pioneered several initiatives to address homelessness and housing insecurity, and Tyson called the measures a first step toward developing "an ecosystem" of supports that could spread throughout Kaiser's national network. He also said it was his riskiest decision.
"Why was that move risky? Because it shows no immediate dividends," he said in 2018. "The whole point is to have an economic engine to support the infrastructure needed to make sure that we don't end up with anyone using the streets of America as their home."
Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, called Tyson, "a giant in healthcare."
"Whether it was addressing food insecurity or homelessness, he was a thoughtful voice on building a better future for all," he added.
During the past few years, Tyson made improving mental health a priority, and the health system redesigned care models to better integrate mental health in primary care and other settings.
"What's most striking about Bernard (was) his conviction, honesty and integrity," George Halvorson, his predecessor as leader of Kaiser, told Modern Healthcare upon hearing of his friend's passing. "His commitment to excellence and service was strong and he made sure that was embedded in the system and I truly believe that will be his legacy."
Halvorson also recalled that as chief operating officer at Kaiser, Tyson pushed back against concerns about investing $3 billion in an electronic health record system. He told leadership that the EHR would be used just like the internet someday, that the information it would yield would be integral to improving healthcare. "He was absolutely right," Halvorson said.
Kaiser in the past few years had also provided more of its primary care through telehealth visits, something Tyson was very proud of.
As leader of the country's largest integrated delivery system, Tyson was well-known among insurance executives and previously served as chair of America's Health Insurance Plans.
"His passion for helping people ... his strong desire to serve ... his dedication every day to making people healthier and communities stronger ... his towering eminence as a leader," AHIP's board of directors said in a statement. "He epitomized what we should all strive to deliver."
Ceci Connolly, president and CEO of the Alliance of Community Health Plans, said "the nation has lost a trailblazing African-American executive. The health sector has lost a visionary who led by example."
At Tyson's most recent visit with Modern Healthcare last month, he shared his excitement and nervousness about an upcoming Oakland Symphony Orchestra performance of his playlist. Tyson joked that he wasn't sure how the performers and audience would react to his choices. An avid music lover, he had chosen some gospel and rap, including Wu Tang Clan. That concert was set to take place Jan. 24.
Tyson appeared Saturday at the AfroTech conference, speaking about how to build a better future, a topic he was passionate about. In 2014, he wrote an essay on LinkedIn about his experience as a black man in America that generated significant attention.
"You would think my experience as a top executive would be different from a black man who is working in a retail or food service job to support his family," Tyson wrote. "Yet, he and I both understand the commonality of the black male experience that remains consistent no matter what the economic status or job title."
He was an early contributor to help create the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution Lonnie Bunch tweeted his condolences Sunday.
"I am devastated by the passing of business and healthcare leader Bernard Tyson," Bunch said. "I will miss his leadership, counsel and supportive nature."
"Words cannot express the deep sadness I feel for the loss of my friend and colleague Bernard Tyson," tweeted CommonSpirit Health CEO Lloyd Dean. "He was one of our nation's most talented and impactful leaders. A champion for health equity. A giant among men. And I will miss him very much."
Tyson's business acumen transcended healthcare. He sat on several boards, including Salesforce.
Marc Benioff, co-CEO of the software company called Tyson one of the world's greatest CEOs. "A light unto this world has gone out," he tweeted. "Bernard Tyson our loving friend & board member has passed away. He always did so much for others & the world."
California Gov. Gavin Newsom called Tyson a healthcare pioneer, noting his impact on healthcare across the nation and internationally.
"We will always remember how he made healthcare accessible for so many while paving the way for countless professionals of color to pursue leadership roles in healthcare and corporate America," Newsom said in a statement.
"Throughout his distinguished career, Bernard has been a tireless advocate for health equity, accessible and affordable care, and workplace diversity," said Ascension President and CEO Joseph Impicciche.
Tyson had appeared on Modern Healthcare's list of the 100 Most Influential in Healthcare five times and undoubtedly would have been on the list again this year. He also appeared on Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare biennial list four of the last five times it was published. In 2017, he was named to the Time 100 list of the most influential people of the year.
A mentor to many young executives, Tyson looked to invest in upcoming leaders, telling Modern Healthcare last month that Kaiser had committed $130 million to $140 million to give younger employees training as it negotiated with its unions.
"We want to figure out together how to invest in upskilling our workforce," he said.