Thinking back to the days when he was a young night administrator at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, John Bluford refers to himself as a human metal detector. He was responsible for collecting contraband that patients and visitors brought into the hospital – guns, knives, machetes. Early on, he also had a job working as an epidemiologist in St. Louis, interviewing community residents about sensitive health topics. These on-the-job-experiences complemented his master’s degree training at Northwestern University to groom him to be comfortable in talking with all kinds of people, a skill that has served him well as a leader.
Mr. Bluford moved to the Twin Cities to become the administrator of the Pilot City Health Center and later worked his way up through the ranks at the Hennepin County Medical Center (both in Minneapolis). He helped found the Metropolitan Health Plan, a health maintenance organization. In the late 1990s, he was recruited to become President & CEO of Truman Health Centers in Kansas City, Mo.
Truman Health Centers was in need of change and Mr. Bluford was able to bring about a turnaround.Among the changes were an emphasis on making the facility more attractive through basic cleanliness and the display of a large art collection.He partnered with a bank to offer financial services at the hospital and sponsored a farmer’s market.While he was there, the hospital established a corporate academy to help further the life-long learning of employees.
In this selection of highlights from a comprehensive oral history interview conducted in 2017, Mr. Bluford reminisces about lessons learned in each step in his career.He shares thoughts on governance, leadership style and shaping corporate culture.He describes the importance of participation on boards such as the United Way and talks about his service as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the American Hospital Association.He also shares information about his current passion – the Bluford Healthcare Leadership Institute.
The edited transcript of the entire oral history interview is also available.