Dr. Henry Berman, the pediatrician who built Group Health Northwest into the largest health maintenance organization in the Inland Northwest, says he’ll retire as president of the HMO next month.
Berman came to Spokane from New York in 1981 and became president of Group Health Northwest five years later.
The 57-year-old administrator said he’s moving on to escape burnout in a business that’s become “far more complicated and wearing than it used to be.”
He has worked in four jobs virtually nonstop since leaving the military 27 years ago.
“I’d like to find out what it feels like not to have to do something for awhile,” Berman said Wednesday.
His last work day will be March 31.
“It’s not a coincidence that baseball season starts on my last day. I already have tickets to a Mariners game soon after that,” Berman said.
Group Health’s membership has soared since the company began in 1977. But recently, the HMO has battled to stay competitive in the cutthroat health services industry.
It has 160,000 members in Eastern Washington and North Idaho, but dropped 30,000 Central Washington customers in December because of high cost overruns, Berman said.
Group Health also decided to lay off about 100 workers - 10 percent of its work force - this year to reduce operating costs.
To keep accounts and attract new ones, Group Health merged with Kaiser Permanente last year. Kaiser is the country’s largest health maintenance organization.
Berman said the merger will make the transition to a new president easier.
“We’re a little better-anchored because of the affiliation. Leaving now won’t be so abrupt,” he said.
His colleagues give Berman credit for managing a 900-employee business and not losing sight of the human dimensions of health care.
“He has a special talent for understanding all the different areas of health care,” said Joe Legel, chief financial officer at Sacred Heart Medical Center.
“But then Henry also can take into account the different points of view of the many people he works with - the providers, the people who pay the bills, and the people who get the care in the end,” Legel said.
Berman said a health care administrator’s job now demands constant attention to the fast-changing rules and regulations affecting the industry.
“This business is much more complicated than it used to be. With legislative and regulatory challenges, and with managing community concerns for access and costs, it’s become very hard. And very wearing,” he said.
He hasn’t decided what he’ll do after leaving Group Health. He’s told Kaiser officials he’s willing to stay on the job through June 30 if need be.
He and his wife, Louisa Rose, won’t leave Spokane.
“I’ll continue to look for opportunities to improve the quality of health care and services here,” Berman said.
Berman has a psychology degree from Harvard and a medical degree from New York University.
He came to Spokane in 1981 to take the job of medical director of Group Health Northwest. He was promoted to president in 1986.
In 1997, Kaiser named him vice president of its Kaiser/Pacific Northwest group, which includes Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound. That Seattle based HMO provides services to 480,000 people.