Richard Liekweg talks the talk and walks the walk.
The new president and CEO of BJC HealthCare speaks passionately about the importance of quality health care at its 15 hospitals, including three in the metro-east.
But he also makes health and fitness a priority in his personal life.
Liekweg, 57, is an avid cyclist who rides 30 to 50 miles on weekends, often hitting Madison County bike trails. He exercises two mornings a week at the gym before work and follows a pescatarian diet, eating lots of veggies and fish but no meat.
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“OK, once in a while, I’ll have bacon,” he says, smiling. His other “vice” is peanut M&Ms.
On Jan. 1, Liekweg replaced Steven Lipstein, who retired after 18 years at the BJC helm. Liekweg had joined the system in 2009 as Barnes-Jewish Hospital president and BJC group president before serving as BJC executive vice president and president.
He has such a big, compassionate heart. He always wants to do what’s right for everybody. He really believes in our health-care mission.
Sue Hachmann on BJC’s new leader, Richard Liekweg
The biggest benefit for metro-east residents, Liekweg said, is that they won’t have to travel across the Mississippi River for BJC services, particularly treatment by Siteman Cancer Center doctors and staff.
“We’re still going to be able to care for you, but now we can do it in your backyard,” he said.
And when Liekweg says “care,” he means it, said Sue Hachmann, 57, of Godfrey, his executive assistant for the past year and a half.
“He has such a big, compassionate heart. He always wants to do what’s right for everybody. He really believes in our health care mission.”
‘Improving access to care’
BJC has been around since the early 1990s, when the former Barnes and Jewish hospitals in St. Louis joined with Christian Health Services, including Alton Memorial.
Today, it’s “one of the nation’s largest nonprofit, integrated health-care delivery organizations with nearly $5 billion in net revenues and more than 31,000 employees serving the greater St. Louis, southern Illinois and mid-Missouri regions,” according to a company profile.
Now that Memorial has “joined the BJC family,” as Liekweg puts it, Memorial Regional Health Services president Mark Turner will be responsible to both BJC and his two hospital boards.
“It’s a very, very good thing for Memorial and our communities,” he said Friday. “BJC has been an excellent partner. ... It’s all about improving access to care.”
Turner cited investments BJC already has made, including a new $4.8 million hybrid operating room at Memorial, a 70,000-square-foot medical office building at Memorial East and renovations to increase the number of private hospital rooms in Belleville.
Liekweg and Turner predict that patients who formerly saw doctors in the Memorial medical group or got admitted to a Memorial hospital will continue to do so.
But those referred to Siteman for chemotherapy, radiation and other oncology could stay in Illinois and get the same treatment through BJC’s Swansea facility until a new Siteman building is constructed in Shiloh next year, they said. That project is pending approval by the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board.
BJC also is developing a new region-wide electronic medical-records system that’s expected to be in place by late 2018 or early 2019, Liekweg said.
“At that point in time, any patient who presents to Memorial or any other BJC hospital or physician provider ... Their information will be accessible through a common medical record.”
Father encouraged career path
Liekweg (pronounced LIKE-weg) grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, the youngest of six children. His father worked for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and his mother was an elementary school teacher.
Young Rich’s influences included an uncle who was an obstetrician and a brother, now deceased, who became a cardiothoracic surgeon.
“My grandfather was a general practitioner and the city coroner in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “That was in the early 1900s.”
Liekweg held a part-time job as an operating-room orderly in high school before majoring in economics at University of Virginia.
“My dad sent me an article and he said, ‘Hey, there’s a field out there called hospital administration. I don’t know anything about it, but it sounds like it combines your love of business with your interest in medicine,’” he said.
Turns out, Dad was a smart guy. Liekweg went on to earn master’s degrees in health services administration and business administration at University of Michigan.
We actually tried to do a joint venture in rehab services. And to this day, we say we couldn’t make it work because of basketball.
Stacey Liekweg on working at rival North Carolina universities
“We actually tried to do a joint venture in rehab services,” said Stacey, 56. “And to this day, we say we couldn’t make it work because of basketball. We were too big of rivals.”
Crisscrossing the country
After Duke, Liekweg served as CEO and associate vice chancellor at University of California, San Diego Medical Center from 2003 to 2009. It was Lipstein who recruited him to become Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s president, leaving sunny California for the Midwest.
“I told him it never snowed in St. Louis,” Lipstein joked last week from his second home in Vail, Colorado, where he plans to spend a lot more time now that he’s retired.
Lipstein had heard about Liekweg’s strong reputation as a hospital administrator, but during their eight years working together, he got to know him as a “people person.”
Liekweg joined Lipstein’s team for the annual MS 150, a two-day fundraising bike ride from Houston to Austin, Texas, sponsored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Lipstein’s wife, Susan, has the disease.
Liekwig also participates in Pedal the Cause in St. Louis to raise money for Siteman cancer research.
“If you spend any time at all with Rich, you realize that he’s a very nice person,” said Lipstein, 61. “And niceness counts.”
Liekweg’s new office on the 12th floor of Barnes’ Center for Outpatient Health has a conference room with two walls of windows overlooking the city of St. Louis. On a clear day, you can see Illinois seven miles away.
Co-workers describe Liekweg’s leadership style as collaborative. He refers to employees as “team members,” encourages listening and promotes MRIs (most respectful interpretations).
“With Rich, what you see is what you get,” said June Fowler, BJC senior vice president for communications, marketing and public affairs. “He’s scary smart but also very humble. And he’s decisive. He recognizes the responsibility that he has as leader of the largest employer in the region.”
In their free time, Liekweg and his wife travel around Missouri and Southern Illinois to watch their 18-year-old daughter, Caroline, compete in swimming.
Stacey is a senior partner with Exeteur Group, a venture-development firm that specializes in life sciences. She formerly served as executive director of The Institute of Engineering in Medicine at University of California, San Diego. Active like her husband, she runs, bikes and walks in Forest Park whenever possible.
“We live in a historic home (in the Central West End),” Stacey said. “It’s diverse, it’s near the hospital and, quite frankly, as the biggest employer in the city, he thought he should live in the city, not out in the burbs. We wanted to show our support.”