In his 30-year career as a hospital administrator, Richard Freeman has become a problem solving specialist. “Every hospital in the country has a problem,” he says. “It’s just the nature of the beast. Hospitals are very intricate, very labor intensive, and very service oriented, with regulator bodies, medical staff, and the community. Every time I go in, I have a burning platform or issue that has to be resolved or looked at and changed.”

Freeman is the new CEO of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton. He took the job on June 16, and he has already found his problem to solve: “I think Robert Wood Johnson Hamilton has to grow into the new healthcare delivery model,” he says. “What I’ve been saying at all the employee forums is that we’re in purgatory.” According to Freeman, RWJH is in limbo between the old model of payments, which has been virtually unchanged for 25 years, and the new model brought about by the Affordable Care Act. The ACA changes the way Medicare reimburses hospitals, by penalizing re-admissions and hospital-acquired conditions.

Freeman praised his predecessor, Anthony “Skip” Cimino, a longtime trustee and leader at the hospital. “Engagement of the physicians and medical staff was his largest accomplishment,” he says. “The medical community really respects him and likes him, and that may not have been the way it was prior to his tenure.”

Cimino was a history major who ran a carpet store and worked for an engineering firm before joining the hospital’s board in 1988. He was CEO from 2009 until June, when he stepped down. Freeman is a career hospital administrator whose roots in medicine go all the way back to his childhood in northeast Philadelphia.

Freeman’s father owned a hair salon and his mother was a lab tech who oversaw a primary care practice on Welsh Road. “I’ve always had an inclination towards healthcare.” Freeman volunteered at hospitals when he was a student in high school and college. He earned a bachelor’s degree at LaSalle and then an MBA from Temple.

After college, Freeman spent his entire career in hospital administration. His resume includes serving as president of Mountainside and Pascack Valley hospitals, where he oversaw the integration of both institutions in to the Hackensack University Health Network. He was COO of Beth Israel Medical Center and Continuum Health Partners in New York City. He also was CEO of Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital, which he integrated into the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine during his tenure.

It’s no coincidence that “integration” features so heavily in Freeman’s background. Part of his mission as CEO of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton is to bring the hospital more fully into the Robert Wood Johnson Health Network.

The network includes the flagship Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, and 12 other medical facilities throughout the state. The extensive philanthropic efforts of the Johnson family sometimes create confusion in nomenclature: The multi-billion dollar Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, headquartered on College Road East, is not directly related to the Health Network, but sometimes gives it grants as part of its charitable mission.

Freeman believes that to thrive in the future, RWJUH Hamilton will have to work more closely with the hospital network. “In the world of 2014, it’s probably more of a demand that you align yourself even more closely to the system and work with the system.”

He believes being part of the network is RWJ’s advantage versus its newer competitors: Capital Health in Hopewell and University Hospital Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, which both opened large hospitals in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

“Anything that’s new and shiny has an attraction to it, but at the end of the day, the quality of the service and the physician relationships, and the partnership with the community — all the things that make a quality institution — make it stand out and compete. Our relationship in the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital system truly differentiates us from the competition. None of the other two are affiliated with a major medical center teaching hospital or have the financial support we get.”

Freeman says he spent his first week on the job holding “employee forums,” touring the hospital, and grappling with the question, “How do we position RWJ Hamilton to be prepared to handle the future while still living in the present?”

Freeman says he is optimistic about the prospects to do that successfully.

“Hamilton has a bright future,” he says. “We want to be more closely aligned and identified with Robert Wood Johnson University as an institution, and we are going to become the hospital of choice in the capital region over the next five years.”

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton, 1 Hamilton Health Place, Hamilton 08619; 609-586-7900; fax, 609-584-6525. Richard Freeman, CEO.

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