Robert Valliant, long-time administrator of Bartlett Regional Hospital passed away in the early hours of Tuesday, Dec. 19, after an extended fight with cancer. He is remembered by his colleagues as a decisive visionary who turned a community hospital with yearly revenues of $14 million into a regional medical center that now grosses over $75 million annually. The hospital's medical staff more than doubled during Valliant's tenure.
"He put his heart and his passion into Bartlett," said Dr. Bob Urata, president of the Bartlett Regional Hospital Board of Directors. Urata credits Valliant for creating a truly regional hospital.
Valliant was diagnosed with bladder cancer in May 2005, by Dr. Michael Singsaas, who referred him to Anchorage for a surgical procedure not available at Bartlett Regional Hospital. His physicians in Anchorage soon determined his condition to be inoperable. Returning home, he underwent all his chemotherapy at the Bartlett Infusion Unit, under the direction of Dr. Paul Weiden, a visiting oncologist, assisted by Tamara Simone-Collins, RN. Dr. Kim Smith was his primary physician.
Valliant continued to work at Bartlett until early November. He handed over operations to his successor, interim CEO Jim Richardson, on Nov. 21, of this year. He chose to remain at home until the end, closely attended to by his physician Kim Smith, and his wife, Josie, and sons John and Jason.
Les Spickler, now retired in Tumwater, Washington, with his wife Betty, served on the hospital board of directors that hired Valliant.
"Bob had capabilities way beyond Bartlett," Spickler said during a visit to Juneau in November. "He was the type of guy who was on B and considering C when the board was still on A. He was a big, gruff guy with a lot of compassion. Our little town was lucky to have him."
Valliant arrived in Juneau in 1989 as an interim chief executive officer. As it would turn out, Bartlett would be the longest and last assignment of his long career. "When I got here, the hospital was like a pearl lying in the mud," Valliant recalled in November. "There wasn't anything I could do to make things worse than what I was looking at." He accepted the offer by the hospital's board of directors of a permanent position as top administrator, a job he held until he took medical leave in early November of this year.
When Valliant accepted the job as CEO, the hospital was overwhelmed by union turmoil and debt, with the City Assembly demanding change. "It took about five years to turn things around," he said.
"Bob Valliant was the consummate administrator and public servant," says Jamie Parsons, former Juneau assemblyman and Mayor of Juneau. "He took the helm of Bartlett Hospital in the late 80's and quickly turned it around financially." Parsons praised Valliant's for "dynamic leadership in making Bartlett the excellent regional health care hub it is today. He never allowed the expansion of the hospital complex to get bogged down or diverted by bureaucracy."
A series of major expansions followed Bartlett's financial turn around. Beginning in the early 1990s, Valliant oversaw the conversion of the community hospital into a regional health center. The expansion became a gigantic jigsaw puzzle of successive construction projects - a process challenged by the need to keep the hospital fully functional.
With the construction of a separate administrative building in the mid-1990s, non-medical personnel moved out of the hospital, which allowed the modernization of the surgical wing and the admissions area to proceed. Most recently, a new wing that adds 50 percent more hospital floor space will allow several hospital units to vacate large sections of the original structure, which will then be completely renovated. This last phase will be completed about a year from now.
"A hospital is a business. I think I brought that awareness to the medical community," Valliant said. "When I arrived here, the first thing I noticed was how we dealt with our patient population. It was completely antiquated - there were no private rooms for patients."
At the conclusion of the conversion that Valliant initiated over ten years ago, virtually every patient room will be single occupancy.
Bob Valliant was born in El Reno, Okla. on Oct. 31, 1942 to Raymond and Matilda Valliant. Raymond Valliant, a Chief Warrant Officer in the U.S. Army who frequently served in foreign countries, settled his family in Lawton, Oklahoma, where Bob and his sister Barbara grew up.
Soon after graduating from the University of Oklahoma, Valliant, an ROTC cadet, joined the U.S. Army as a 2nd Lieutenant assigned to the Armored Corps. Because his father was serving in Vietnam at the time, Valliant could have chosen to serve elsewhere, but he wanted to see action. He got his wish and then some.
During his service in Vietnam, Valliant was awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, four Bronze Star Medals (three for valor in combat), and his most prized award, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, presented only to those who served in a unit actively engaged in ground combat. Valliant left the U.S. Army as a Major after eleven years of service.
Following his tour of duty, Valliant returned to school, earning another BA, this time in Marketing, from the University of Texas. He later graduated with an MBA in hospital administration from Trinity University in San Antonio.
In the early 1980s, Valliant began his hospital career as an assistant administrator for a facility owned by Hospital Corporation of America in Arlington, Texas, where he served for close to three years. This was followed by a temporary assignment to Saudi Arabia where he helped complete a 500-bed hospital for that country's national guard.
HCA soon recognized Valliant's talents as an administrator and assigned him to a series of distressed hospitals. "Putting a hospital back together doesn't win you a lot of friends, so you move on," Valliant said. Few of his assignments lasted more than two years.
In late 1988, Valliant had just turned down job offers in Sedro Woolely, Washington, and Anaconda, Montana, when he got a call from his boss asking if he would interview for a job in Alaska. "I did not want to leave Texas," he said, "so I said I'd consider the job, but only as an interim CEO."
Assured that the assignment would last no more than three months, Valliant came to Juneau on Feb. 20, 1989. "I really took a liking to the place," he recalled. Five weeks later, on Easter weekend, he was joined by his wife Josie and six-year-old step-son Bruno, who arrived to a mixture of rain, snow and sun. The Valliants fell in love with Juneau and three months turned into seventeen years.
Former board member Marilyn Freymueller praised Valliant for guiding the hospital through the difficult period of his early tenure, with Bartlett emerging as the center for health care in northern Southeast.
"Bob was also very active in community affairs," Freymueller said, citing his work in developing the Bartlett Foundation.
According to Lennie Gorsuch, a long-time member of the hospital board of directors, Valliant understood the necessity of attracting more medical specialists to Juneau to expand the services offered here. Gorsuch also credits Valliant for the creation of a psychiatric residency program.
"It was a lucky day for Juneau when Bob Valliant decided to accept the job as administrator for our hospital," said Gorsuch, who has served several terms on the board.
"It was his vision to create a regional hospital that could provide services so that residents wouldn't have to travel to Seattle or Anchorage. It was his vision to create a hospital foundation that could raise funds for projects like the dialysis center, and Bartlett house."
Prior to his death, Valliant said one of his proudest accomplishments for the community is the Reifenstein Dialysis Center, a project he championed through his work with the Bartlett Foundation. A generous grant from the Reifenstein family of Juneau allowed the center to open much sooner than would have been otherwise possible.
In addition to his role in founding the Bartlett Foundation, Valliant was active in several community organizations including the Glacier Valley Rotary Club, of which he served as president (1999-2000) and chair of the club's annual boat show, and was past president of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.
Within a year after coming to Alaska, he was invited by NorCal Mutual Insurance Company to served on the Alaska Advisory Committee. NorCal is one of the largest medical professional liability insurers in the United States. During his nearly 17 years on the committee he came to know Barb Fleshman, an employee of the company.
"Our acquaintance was more than just professional - I considered Bob a friend," says Fleshman. "I will sorely miss him. I learned from Bob about courage and integrity. He was never afraid to make an unpopular decision and to stick by it. I learned you can be very strong and kind at the same time - he showed remarkable compassion to people in need."
Valliant served on the Qualis Health Board of Directors for 11 years. Qualis Health, a non-profit quality improvement organization, helps health care providers in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and across the nation to improve the quality of healthcare delivery and outcomes.
Valliant was also an associate of the American College of Healthcare Executives, past president of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, and a former chair of a task force on domestic violence.
Valliant was preceded in death by his mother and father. He is survived by Josie, his wife of 18 years; his sons Jason and John Valliant, his step-son Bruno Del Olmo, and his sister Barbara Clyde.
Funeral services will be held at a later date. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Bartlett Foundation and Hospice and Homecare of Juneau.