August 5, 2020

Rabner to Retire from Princeton Health After Almost Two Decades as CEO

By Anne Levin

It isn’t just that he wants to spend time with his family, which now includes four grandchildren. Barry Rabner, president and CEO of Penn Medicine Princeton Health for the past 18 years — since it was known as Princeton Hospital — is ready for a change.

The medical center announced last week that Rabner, 68, will retire as of January 1, 2021. “It was a combination of things,” he said Monday when asked what steered him toward the decision. “Having the grandchildren was reason enough, because that’s a big part of our life now. But I think it’s just the right time.”

The press release announcing Rabner’s retirement lists the changes, expansions, and accolades that the medical center received during his tenure — recognitions for nursing excellence, designation as a leader in health care equality for those who identify as LGBTQ, the doubling in outpatient capacity at Princeton House Behavioral Health, a five-fold increase in medical staff, partnerships in fitness and wellness, ambulatory surgery, gastroenterology, and a partnership with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, among other achievements.

Perhaps most significant are the design and construction of the new hospital in Plainsboro, which the small hospital on Witherspoon Street moved to in 2012, and the decision to join the University of Pennsylvania Health System in 2018.

“This is a wonderfully solid relationship that has been great for the hospital, especially through COVID,” Rabner said. “I don’t know how we would have managed if we weren’t part of the Penn system. In order to create capacity for COVID patients, all the hospitals stopped doing elective procedures, which was a good idea, but had a huge economic impact. So being able to weather that financial storm — not having to do anything extreme like lay people off or cut salaries — was huge.”

Rabner also credits the partnership with being able to create an ambulatory cancer center, which is currently under development.

There have been significant challenges along the way. “When I came on board, we had some major financial problems which we were able to address,” Rabner said. “Selling the old hospital and Merwick facility and having it rezoned so we could have enough capital to build the new hospital was a big challenge. And more recently, completing the strategic plan to see what would be best for the future, which is being part of a large, academic medical center, was very important.”

Some of the most dramatic moments have been in the past few months. “Everybody came together during COVID,” Rabner said. “We had our first patient March 16. Sixteen days later we had 90. So that rate of increase, taking care of people with problems we hadn’t seen before, and keeping employees safe at the same time, was an indescribable problem. What made it really frightening were forecasts, at the time, that we might have to take care of 1,500 people. And we have 250 beds. We came up with ideas to deal with it, but fortunately it turned out not to be necessary.”

The medical center has treated about 500 COVID-19 patients so far. For the last few weeks, the average has been about five a day, Rabner said. “We’ve gotten back to normal and we’ve learned a lot.”

Rabner plans to continue teaching at Rider University, where he serves as adjunct faculty and “executive in residence.” He also serves on the editorial board of HERD, a health environment research and design journal, and expects to do consulting in hospital management and fundraising.

Despite his obvious accomplishments, Rabner doesn’t like to take all the credit. “At the last board meeting where it was announced that I’d be stepping down, they listed how much had happened during the past two decades,” he said. “But you know how many people it takes to get anything done, and this is no different. It sounds kind of disingenuous or humble, but when you’ve got 1,300 physicians and 3,200 employees, plus trustees and volunteers, you feel like an idiot taking credit for all these things that everyone is doing.”