Kaiser Permanente seeks replacement as CEO Bernard Tyson dies suddenly at 60
Health care provider Kaiser Permanente said Sunday its chairman and CEO, Bernard J. Tyson, has died unexpectedly at the age of 60.
Tyson was the first African American to head Kaiser Permanente as CEO when he took that position in 2013 after filling a number of roles over three decades at the company.
No other details were provided in the company’s announcement, which said that Tyson died in his sleep early Sunday.
Tyson is survived by his wife, Denise Bradley-Tyson, and three sons, Bernard J. Tyson Jr., Alexander and Charles.
The board of directors has named Executive Vice President Gregory Adams as interim chairman and CEO.
Tyson’s death comes at an especially sensitive moment for the health system.
Kaiser reached a contract settlement with 85,000 workers, averting a threatened strike, just weeks ago. And it was facing a five-day walkout by some 4,000 mental health clinicians starting today. The walkout by members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers was postponed, union officials said Sunday, in observance of Tyson’s passing. A new date was not announced.
Both disputes placed the system’s 20-year reputation for collaborative labor relations in doubt.
As it happens, Tyson “was a Kaiser executive who helped establish the labor-management partnership,” says Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers. In that period, the mid- to late 1990s, Rosselli was associated with United Healthcare Workers West, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.
“We truly worked together to make Kaiser the best place to receive and give medical care,” Rosselli told me. “There was true collaboration to establish an appropriate balance of power between labor and management.”
The recent labor issues have turned partially on questions of how Kaiser deploys its massive resources. The system reported net income of $2.5 billion on operating revenue of $79.7 billion last year, compared with net income of $3.8 billion the year before - a decline it attributed partially to “volatility in the investment markets.”
The system also reported reserves of $31.6 billion, a metric relevant to its role as a health insurer, in 2017.
Those figures have turned the spotlight on Kaiser’s spending, which includes construction of a new $900-million headquarters building, on which ground is to be broken in Oakland next year. The system also has made a bid reported to be $295 million for naming rights to the district around the Golden State Warriors’ new basketball arena in San Francisco. (The location would be called “Thrive City,” a reference to Kaiser’s advertising catchword, “Thrive.”)
And the system is planning to open its own medical school next year in Pasadena, waiving all tuition for the first five classes of students.
The medical school plan “suggests how well they’re doing,” says Anthony Wright, executive director of the consumer group Health Access California. “They’re looking not just at next year’s returns, but at educating future generations. But as much as that is probably a very good investment in the future of California’s health care system, it’s also fair for the people who’ve been paying premiums to Kaiser to say, where does that money come from?”
A three-decade veteran of Kaiser management, Tyson presided over an appreciable increase in the Kaiser system’s enrollment and financial strength since becoming CEO in 2013 and chairman a year later. The organization grew from 9.1 million members and annual revenue of $53 billion in 2013 to 12.3 million members and $79.7 billion in revenue at the end of 2018.