Large Nonprofit CEO of the Year – Dr. David Tam, Beebe Healthcare President & CEO
Dr. David Tam was preparing to move to Lewes to take the helm of Beebe Healthcare, the largest health care system in Sussex County, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
For the longtime U.S. Navy officer, it wasn’t an option to leave his charge amid a global crisis, so he packed his car and drove cross-country from California to lead the local response. He was previously a senior executive at Providence St. Joseph’s Health, one of the largest and most comprehensive not-for-profit health systems in the nation.
“You couldn’t make impactful decisions that affected the community as well as the organization [at Providence]. So when I came here, I really wanted to be a leader of an independent nonprofit community health system,” he said.
One of the first challenges that Tam sought to overcome was the reputation that it was hard to recruit physicians to Delaware’s southernmost county. In his two years at Beebe, the health system has recruited more than 100 people despite difficult conditions.
“The new surgical hospital is a huge attractor of surgeons who want to come and work in a place where they have the tools and still be able to do it at the beach,” he said.
Tam has quickly developed a reputation of leading by example and subsequently endearing himself to his new workforce. He said that’s a byproduct of his military background.
“Leaders lead by making sure that they eat last, and their people eat first. It’s so important for everybody in the organization to be aligned, to understand where they’re going and why they’re doing what they’re doing,” he said. “Accountability is a two-way street. You hold your people accountable for the work that you ask them to do, but as a leader, you must also be accountable.”
Looking ahead, Tam worked with the system’s board of directors to slim down and focus on the future, recently creating a five-year strategic plan. He said that would also allow the public to keep them accountable for the services they intend to provide at an inflection point of growth in Sussex County.