Who says nothing lasts? This CEO has worked in the same firm for 44 years

For nearly 44 years, Brian Keeley has worked at Baptist Health. During his 20-plus years as president and CEO, he has overseen mergers with South Miami and Homestead hospitals, the acquisitions of Mariners Hospital in the Florida Keys and Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables, and opened West Kendall Baptist Hospital and the Miami Cancer Institute.

The non-profit Baptist Health system now includes 100 outpatient and physician office locations as well as 10 hospitals. It is one of Miami-Dade’s largest employers, with more than 18,600 employees. It is affiliated with Florida International University’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance and has more than 1.5 million patient visits each year.

Recently, Keeley was honored as the recipient of the Sand in My Shoes Award, the highest honor bestowed annually by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. We recently interviewed him via email.

Q: You came to Baptist as an administrative resident in 1969. What is an administrative resident?

A: When I came to Baptist Hospital as an Administrative Resident, it was the first such position at the hospital. I spent a year at the then-290-bed Baptist Hospital on Kendall Drive (the “road to nowhere,” as it was known back then) as part of a one-year student residency for my MBA degree from George Washington University. I left after that to fulfill my military obligation (I had a direct commission to the Navy Medical Service Corp) in Boston and Connecticut. I returned to Baptist Hospital after [my four-year tour of duty.] I told Ernie Nott, the then-CEO, I was only planning to stay five years — but the rest was history. I returned in 1973, which means I’ve been with Baptist Health South Florida for 44 years!

Q: What has kept you at Baptist, and why have you invested your career in Miami?

A: What has kept me here is that Baptist Health is truly committed to superior patient care. We are a not-for-profit, mission-driven organization that always puts patients first. And we have a great corporate culture with core values I fully embrace — such as honesty and integrity.

Baptist Hospital (and then Baptist Health South Florida) became one of the fastest-growing and most successful healthcare organizations in the nation for a number of reasons; but I attribute it to the amazing employees that we have been able to recruit and keep — for a llloonnnnggg time! We are a very employee-friendly organization with a high level of patient engagement, which I firmly believe results in high levels of patient satisfaction. With all of the beautiful buildings we now have and world-class technology, the real defining characteristic of Baptist Health is our employees. It is one of the reasons why Fortune Magazine has named us one of the Best Companies to Work for in America for many years.

Q: For Miami, the period since 1969 has brought changes that could be measured in light-years elsewhere. Which of those changes has impressed you most?

A: When I got to Miami in 1969, the tallest building was the Freedom Tower. There were no skyscrapers. This was a small city with a focus on tourism. On Kendall Drive, there was little development after 102nd Avenue. Since then, there has been a dramatic expansion of South Florida. It has been amazing to see the growth of Miami from a small town to a sophisticated city that is on par with Paris, London and Dubai. We now live in a global city that is vibrant, multicultural and dynamic. And I think it is the most beautiful city in the world.

Q: That same period has also brought massive change in the healthcare industry. What of that has been most pivotal, in your opinion? What do you expect healthcare to look like in 10 years?

A: Industry consolidation and new technologies have been pivotal in bringing about change. While Baptist Health is now one of the largest healthcare systems in the nation, our plans were never to pursue growth for the sake of growth. We just wanted to be the best and most preferred healthcare system in South Florida. Industry changes and a flurry of mergers and acquisitions have brought us opportunities to expand and preserve not-for-profit healthcare in South Florida.

In the next 10 years, I expect to see more integration in the industry, and I expect healthcare in general to become much more patient-centric and consumer-friendly — providing care in less-expensive settings like ambulatory centers, urgent-care centers and even the home — all facilitated by technology like tele-medicine, smartphones and artificial intelligence.

Baptist Health has a wonderful and highly skilled group of primary-care physicians who will be focusing on prevention and wellness and managing chronic diseases. Our four Centers of Excellence (Miami Cancer Institute, Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, Miami Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Institute, and Baptist Health Neuroscience Center) are all world-class centers staffed by the some of the finest and most-skilled specialists in the U.S. — using the latest, cutting-edge technology. We are making significant investments in technology and, coupled with our emphasis on people, our mantra will be “high-touch, high-tech” — with a heavy emphasis on digital health. With electronic medical records, we expect much more transparency for patient-consumers and physicians in terms of clinical outcomes, patient satisfaction and costs.

Our goal is to continue to be the preeminent and most-preferred healthcare system in South Florida, from Key West to Palm Beach. This is our self-determined service area — we have no intention to grow beyond these boundaries.

Q: Not-for-profits have a responsibility to be fiscally sound. But Baptist is sometimes criticized for its massive reserves, currently at $2.9 billion. What is your response to that?

A: Baptist Health has a strong financial base with a solid balance sheet — something we started working on 30 years ago when we saw weak hospitals closing and being sold. I am always reminded of the famous quote from Sister Irene Kraus, former chairperson of the American Hospital Association: “No margin, no mission.” It’s as true today as it was then. Baptist Health provides around $300 million in charity care and community benefit annually — which we fund internally.

Q: You’ve been a highly effective leader for Baptist. Is there a succession plan?

A: We have been doing executive succession planning for many years. Every executive is asked and expected to train and mentor his or her replacement, or, even better, two or three potential candidates. So even though we have one of the lowest executive turnover rates in the nation, we are well-prepared to ensure a seamless transition from one generation to the next.

Q: What do you love best about Miami? How do you spend your “spare” time here?

A: I love the sheer vibrancy or our city, the cultural diversity, the beautiful architecture, and of course our amazing weather.

Q: When you get out of Miami, where do you go and what do you do?

A: I enjoy spending time in the Florida Keys. When we go across the first bridge, I can feel my blood pressure drop.

Q: Tell us something you think people might be surprised to learn about you.

A: My first job was as a dog catcher (where I learned a valuable lesson: “Let sleeping dogs lie!”). I served as Honorary Consul General for St Kitts and Nevis; and I served on the Miami Branch/Atlanta of the Federal Reserve Board

Brian E. Keeley

Job title: president and chief executive office, Baptist Health South Florida.

Joined Baptist: 1969 as an administrative resident.

Education: Undergraduate at Miami University, Ohio; MBA from George Washington University.

Point of professional pride: I am most proud of Baptist Health’s commitment to excellence — which was recognized by U.S. News & World Report as we were named No. 1 in South Florida and one of the best in the nation.

Personal: Married to my best friend and love of my life, Dr. Susan Keeley, psychologist, with two wonderful adult children: Amanda (an artist and founder of Exile Books) and Court, an attorney.