News of Bud Barrow’s plans to retire early this year from his post as the top administrator at Our Lady of Lourdes caught me — and lots of other people, I’ve since learned — by surprise. The unexpected news, which I got wind of in the fall, took me back more than a decade to when I first interviewed Barrow about his new position.
This news organization had been on the Patel story for some time leading up to the indictment, and Lourdes had stalled our efforts, refusing early on to even confirm whether Patel (the federal investigation had to be the worst-kept secret in health care circles) retained privileges at the hospital. Patel was found guilty in 2008 on 51 counts — mainly for performing unnecessary procedures — and began serving a 10-year sentence in 2012.
But the new CEO had another big problem on his hands. Two major boutique facilities backed by local doctors and unaffiliated with area hospitals had opened in 2004 (with more likely on the way), battering the bottom lines of not-for-profits like Lafayette General Medical Center and Lourdes. In other words, Lourdes was bleeding and its public image in tatters — with real potential for irreparable damage from the Patel scandal.
“Those were some dark days,” recalls state Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, a member of Lourdes’ board of directors back then and a current member of its Baton Rouge-based health system's board. “We lost some key docs ... including my personal physician,” Boudreaux says. “Having a Catholic hospital in our community was important to me. I was concerned about the void in our community without a Lourdes, what would that look like.”
As soon as he was hired, Barrow — who had come to Lourdes from the Opelousas General Health System, where he was widely popular — quickly went to work to repair the harm Patel had done to Lourdes’ reputation. Barrow shunned Lourdes’ opaque policies of the past, within a year settling lawsuits filed by patients (a $3.8 million payout) and signing a corporate integrity agreement with the feds. “You can’t build trust without transparency, and it has to be at all levels of an organization,” Barrow tells me in a recent interview.
It was a philosophy Barrow disclosed in his earliest days at Lourdes to anyone willing to listen, appearing to fully recognize the weight of the job he had just accepted.
Barrow kept his word, immediately creating a strategy for business partnerships with physicians that has led to numerous successful collaborations, not the least of which was a buyout of the docs’ out-of-state partner in The Heart Hospital — the latter accomplished within two years of his arrival. “I’m pleased that since Lourdes bought a 60 percent stake, I believe, The Heart Hospital has returned a dividend to the physicians every quarter since,” Barrow says.
Without a doubt, Barrow’s biggest accomplishment was the ushering in of a new Lourdes campus on Ambassador Caffery Parkway in 2011, with the hospital alone a $225 million project.
More important than what he did for Lourdes, however, has been Barrow’s visible role in the community, service he says was made possible with the support and guidance of the board president who recruited him, Lafayette attorney Frank Neuner, and Neuner’s successor, Billy Rucks IV.
“They were strong endorsers of me getting involved in the community,” Barrow says. “I can’t say enough about these two men and the work they did [to get Lourdes back on track],” he adds. Among the many area nonprofits and civic groups to have benefited from Barrow’s service are One Acadiana, United Way and Miles Perret Cancer Services, and he has also been a committed advocate on local, state and regional levels for Obamacare, believing everyone should have access to high-quality, affordable health care. (Let’s just say that being a devout Mormon running a Catholic hospital has probably been a lot easier than being a Democrat running, well, any hospital.) “It scares me to death that [Republicans] can’t figure out repeal and replace,” Barrow declares.
Neuner, who has decades of community service on his résumé and is the current One Acadiana chairman, ranks the Barrow hire among the best decisions he ever made as a volunteer board member. “He calmed board members and recruited strong board members,” Neuner says. “He’s a very caring and compassionate person, and I think that’s the kind of person we needed. He righted the ship, and he took us into the next generation, brought us into the 21st century.”
There is perhaps no one who has had a closer view of Barrow’s leadership style and execution of his vision than Boudreaux, who was on one of the subcommittees that visited Opelousas General as part of the recruiting process. “My subcommittee spoke to housekeeping and the kitchen staff,” Boudreaux recalls, “and he knew all of the housekeepers by name; he knew all of the food service people by name.” All of them, Boudreaux says, were not happy that Lourdes was trying to hire away their “Mr. Bud.”
“The person I saw back then was a genuine person, a sincere person, one who went to work every day with that healing ministry and that spirit of empowering the employees,” Boudreaux continues. “As a board member, with our fiduciary responsibilities, there are just some things we have to put in the hands of the administration. And I felt comfortable with Bud, knowing he was going to look out for the employees — especially those who were in housekeeping; not only the docs and the nurses, but the patients and those who perform at entry-level positions within the organization. That’s the ones who make the impact. He was engaged with them. This wasn’t a show; it was real. ... And he brought that to Lourdes.
“Without his leadership, without those physician partnerships, we wouldn’t have sustained in this economy, the closing of Charity, that impact, the decision of where do we go from here. The underlying thing for me with Bud is that he worked and he lived the Franciscan mission every day ... to be of service and to help those most in need.”
Boudreaux says when there was a natural disaster in the community, like a hurricane or flooding, Barrow often slept on a cot in his office to assist in any way possible. “One of the things, him being a Mormom ... holidays he would send out to all of the employees, a message, a Biblical message that was tailored toward them. Even to the point of Labor Day, Memorial Day. That’s not part of the job, but that was part of the man.”
The 62-year-old is instead simplifying his life, serving as president and CEO of the 49-bed Beauregard Memorial Hospital in DeRidder, quite a difference from the responsibility of running the massive network of facilities he helped Lourdes build in this market.
I’m not the only person who thinks much of the success Lourdes enjoys today would not have been possible had someone else been tapped for the top post more than a decade ago.
But as Lourdes re-emerged to its position as a market leader, the workload for its CEO grew exponentially.
Barrow says he just no longer had it in him to keep up the kind of pace Lourdes requires. “It needs someone who is all in, wholly committed, being second to no one,” he says, while also hinting at the pride he has in what’s to come for his former employer. “On the Ambassador campus,” he says, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”