When Chicago’s Evangelical Health Systems Corporation and Lutheran General Health System merged to form Advocate Health Care in 1995, the two boards were preoccupied with numerous and complex legal, financial and medical issues.
But Bryan Sickbert knew the change offered an additional opportunity — a chance to connect the organizations’ faith-based heritages together amid the complicated corporate and legal decisions of the merger. So he invited the Rev. John Thomas, the UCC’s ecumenical officer at the time, to speak at a joint meeting about the value of the Lutheran and UCC connections between the two health systems.
“Bryan’s creative leadership helped the two organizations understand that their faith-based histories supported and complemented each other,” says Thomas, who later served as the UCC’s general minister and president from 1999 to 2009. “Bryan could have just let those organizations be, but he wanted to remind them of how foundational their connection to the church was for the new Advocate Health Care.”
That energy and initiative has continually guided Sickbert, who retired as CHHSM’s president and CEO on Nov. 10.
Although Sickbert formally joined CHHSM in 1991, his professional connection to the organization goes back to the beginning of his career. After earning his master’s degree in business administration from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, and his Master of Divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary, he worked with CHHSM members Good Samaritan and Bethany Hospitals in Chicago. Impressed with his business and theological background, CHHSM leaders encouraged him to apply as president and CEO, a position he says felt like a natural fit.
“CHHSM was in financial trouble when I joined,” Sickbert says. “But I could also feel the deep passion from leaders who wanted to connect their faith-based commitment with their vocation in health and human service organizations.”
Over the next two decades, Sickbert created leadership formation programs to train hundreds of executive, management and pastoral leaders. He also restored the organization to financial health.
Sickbert is “refreshingly impatient” with drawn-out processes and always focuses on outcomes and achievable objectives, a skill that enabled him to quickly collaborate with health care executives and human service experts, Thomas says.
Sickbert’s passion for health and human service ministries has been evidenced by his 23-year commitment to the mission, vision and values of CHHSM as well as the wider church, says Michael Readinger, CHHSM’s new president and CEO.
“His ministry has included his dedication to faith-based leadership formation work, his commitment to CHHSM as an integral part of the UCC based on our shared values, and his stewardship of the resources that God has granted,” Readinger says. “He leaves behind a viable and sustainable organization that is cherished by many and poised for continuing service to the generations ahead.”
Sickbert will continue to teach and lead the 2015 Nollau Institute, CHHSM’s yearlong leadership formation program. But he’s also excited to relax, read, write, and spend more time with his wife, Mary, and their two children and four grandchildren. “I’m not trying to go into retirement with a calendar as packed as it’s been for the past two decades,” he says.
While he’s looking forward to the adventure ahead, he’ll always remember the commitment of everyone involved in CHHSM.
“There has always been a foundation of passion for ministry which makes for a community grounded in hope,” Sickbert says. “Not every day was easy, but every day was hopeful.”