In Memoriam: Bernard J. Tyson, MBA

The Association of Black Cardiologists is deeply saddened by the passing of Bernard J. Tyson, who has been hailed as a transformational and influential leader in healthcare and a role model for many people of color. Tyson died early Sunday morning, November 10, 2019, at the age of 60.

b tysonABC President Dr. John Fontaine said in a statement: “As we reflect on the contributions of Bernard Tyson, we should be reminded that his untimely demise memorializes the mission he undertook to make life better for all.” 

Tyson has been recognized for taking a leadership role in mental health and wellness as part of Kaiser Permanente's total health approach and embracing a patient-centered system focused on delivering high-quality, affordable and accessible healthcare. In 2017, the ABC honored Tyson with the Dr. Walter M. Booker, Sr. Health Promotion Award for his visionary leadership in the evolution of healthcare and his dedication to better health for all during its annual Spirit of the Heart Awards Dinner. At that time, he said: "There is work ahead of us, and we all have to do it.” 

ABC Board Chair Dr. Cheryl Pegus said in a statement: “We have truly lost a champion and fighter for health equity and representation to improve healthcare for all. Our thoughts are with his personal family, work family and friends, and we vow to partner with all stakeholders to continue the work necessary to achieve these goals.”

Tyson began his career at Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Hospitals — known as Kaiser Permanente — over three decades ago as an intern and rose up through the ranks to Chairman and CEO. He established himself as a trailblazer and true “servant leader.” He became CEO in 2013 and assumed the position of Chair in 2014.

Dr. Fontaine added: “As CEO and Chairman of Kaiser Permanente, this skilled and compassionate man knew that to truly play a transformative role in the trajectory of healthcare delivery systems he had to take care of his community and the health of the children, to engage in all aspects of preventive care and not merely focus on disease management.ABCBernard J. Tyson received the Dr. Walter M. Booker Sr. Health Promotion Award from the ABC at the 2017 Spirit of the Heart Awards Dinner in New York City.

Under his stewardship, Kaiser Permanente unveiled a slate of initiatives to address social issues impacting health such as homelessness (through Community Solutions' Built for Zero national effort and Kaiser Permanente’s “Thriving Communities Fund”), food insecurity (with the organization’s “Food for Life” initiative) and mental health among others. Kaiser also launched Thrive Local, a social health network intended to address social needs on a broad scale. Additionally, earlier this year, the organization announced the opening of the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine in 2020 and pledged to waive the tuition for the full four years of school for its first five classes.

“In his organization’s dual role as insurer and healthcare delivery system, this bipartite arrangement covered a broad spectrum of healthcare that mandates an understanding of the complexities involved in delivering care,” Dr. Fontaine stated. “This understanding necessitated that Tyson go beyond the typical medical approach and address the social determinants of health, the homeless problem, access to care and health inequities pervasive in the system. It is time to galvanize all who care about this issue and in tribute to Bernard Tyson, and all those preceding him who fought this fight, to strengthen the armamentarium and more aggressively than ever to seriously impact cardiovascular health in a measurable way.”

The ABC would like to express its condolences to his wife and family as well as take this opportunity to ask all of us to be introspective and rededicate ourselves to the altruistic goal of improving the quality of life for our patients and community.

Prayers and blessings to his family.