For years, people in and around the Seventh-day Adventist world church, especially those involved in healthcare, knew that Dr. Richard Hart, M.D., a preventative medicine specialist and public health leader, was someone whose counsel was important and useful.
Now, his peers in the global healthcare arena are also taking note.
Becker’s Hospital Review, a monthly magazine read by a select group of hospital leaders, recently named Hart one of “110 Physician Leaders to Know” in 2016. According to the magazine, he is one of those executives who “have demonstrated outstanding leadership and clinical expertise throughout their careers, leading initiatives to improve their individual organizations and the healthcare of the communities they serve.”
Lowell Cooper, who chaired the LLU board until his 2015 retirement and who’s known Hart for 30 years, says the recognition is fitting.
“Dr. Hart has an exceptional breadth of vision for global health as well as for the local community,” Cooper, a former general vice president of the Seventh-day Adventist world church, said. Hart’s “leadership in Adventist Health International has provided an opportunity to link generating support for mission hospitals with increasing international mission service opportunities for students at Loma Linda University,” he added. (Adventist Health International is a non-profit organization focused on upgrading and managing mission hospitals and clinics.)
In a statement released by LLU Health, U.S. Representative Pete Aguilar (California, 31st District) said, “Dr. Richard Hart’s devotion to his work is obvious to all who have met him. He has helped families throughout the Inland Empire in their greatest hours of need. His vision has provided immense opportunity and hope to San Bernardino and our region.”
For his part, Hart confessed some surprise at the selection. “I had no idea how they even make the selection process. It’s a total surprise,” he said in a telephone interview. “On behalf of Loma Linda University Health, I think it’s a recognition that we are a national player in the overall [healthcare] system.”
After more than a century of operations in southern California’s Inland Empire, Loma Linda University Health has a global reputation. It’s renowned as the place where, in 1984, Dr. Leonard Bailey, an LLU surgeon, performed a controversial baboon-to-human infant heart transplant that paved the way to save thousands of infants born with defective hearts. LLU’s Proton Therapy Treatment Centerhas treated more than 18,000 patients with a non-invasive method over the past 25 years. And because it is a university, LLU’s medical school has sent thousands of physicians, dentists, nurses and other specialists around the world to serve human need.
“We now consist of six hospitals, we are a university of eight professional schools, and a faculty medical group of 900 physicians,” Hart explained. “The way we are now structured, [we have] one president reporting into one board. It’s an integrated whole, which is a huge benefit to us organizationally.”
Not only does that integration save some overhead costs, he said, but it also “makes decision making a whole lot easier” and keeps the academic and clinical care aspects of LLU Health’s mission together. Without that unity, the rapid pace of growth in healthcare would make it “too easy for the two parts to separate,” he said.
These days, Hart’s attention is focused on the future, specifically the $1.2 billion Vision 2020 project. An LLU statement calls it “the largest endeavor in the history of Loma Linda University Health and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
Construction on a new Children’s Hospital tower and Adult hospital at the Loma Linda campus has begun, projects said to be the largest hospital construction efforts in the state of California. In addition, the Vision 2020 project will include a “wholeness institute and research center,” as well as scholarships and endowments for future students.
Hart — who in 1970 earnned an MD from LLU's School of Medicine and an MPH from its School of Public Health — said he “also takes very seriously” LLU Health’s role within the global Adventist healthcare system, having just concluded an annual conference of 300 Adventist healthcare leaders from around the world before speaking with Adventist Review. Noting that there are six Seventh-day Adventist medical schools in operation now and three more in the works, part of his efforts are to “try to develop the international [medical] work of the Adventist church.”
With such a wide range of responsibilities, Hart still sees patients one day a week. In his spare time, Hart and his wife tend to a seven-acre farm that includes an orchard — and two llamas. As in medicine, the work of a farmer is often unfinished, he noted.
“I’m always behind, but it’s still the way I want it,” Hart said.