Where the Air Is Rare; Darrell Terry Takes the Helm at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center

By Glenda Cadogan

Darrell K. Terry, Sr. arrives at his office and begins his workday at RWJBarnabas Health at 6:30 every morning. But he does not have a job! That’s because as president and chief executive officer at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of New Jersey, he views his work as more of a mission. “Because of where I was born, my upbringing, and where my family receives healthcare, this job is very personal for me,” he told The Positive Community. “I am really passionate about improving the health status of the community we serve here in the RWJBarnabas Health System. So to me, this is not a job; it is a mission!” He continued: “The fact is I am tired of picking up the newspaper and seeing that Newark and the Greater Newark area have the worst infant mortality rate, higher incidents of disease and worst outcomes. I aim to change these dynamics so we can create a healthier community with prevention, early intervention, and education as our hallmark.”

With this aim in mind, Terry has set an aggressive vision plan that includes a strong emphasis on community outreach. “We need to interact with the community in such a manner that we build trust and credibility,” he explained. “In this way we can first teach how to be healthy and, in doing so, help people help themselves.” According to Terry, in his position as president/CEO, his primary external focus is going to be on wellness. “Internally,” he said, “the emphasis is on quality care, safety, and the highest level of patient satisfaction. My goal is that we treat every patient as though they are one of my family members … and often times they are,” he added with a chuckle.

However, the chance that a Terry family member will be treated as a patient at one of the RWJBarnabas Health System hospitals is no laughing matter. In fact, it is his family’s connection to Barnabas Health that influenced Terry’s decision to follow a career path in healthcare. The youngest of four boys, Terry was born at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (NBIMC) and started his in career in healthcare in 1997 at Barnabas Health when he was a junior in college. At the time, he had 10 family members working at University Hospital. Among them was his oldest brother, who got him a summer job —his first in healthcare. Terry fell in love with the hospital environment and worked there through his college years, then took a job in the retail industry. His mother’s hospitalization at Orange Memorial Hospital signaled his return to the healthcare system. “I was absolutely inspired by the treatment she received during her stay at the hospital,” he said. “It made me want to get back into healthcare.” So he did, and worked his way through the ranks from the information desk to operations manager at Orange Memorial before moving over to NBIMC where in a year and a half, he was promoted to director of operations.

Barry H. Ostrowsky, president and chief executive officer of RWJBarnabas Health, absolutely welcomed Terry’s appointment. “Darrell Terry has a wealth of valuable experience at NBIMC and CHoNJ (Childrfen’s Hospital of NJ) and solid roots in the Greater Newark area,” said Ostrowsky. “Having been born at NBIMC and growing up in the neighboring community, Darrell has both an intimate knowledge of and love for this all-important community that we serve. He will continue to be an exceptional leader for our physicians, employees, and our patients. Prior to the merger with RWJ, Darrell served for 18 years as operations manager, corporate director, vice president, senior vice president, and chief operating officer at NBIMC and CHoNJ for Barnabas Health.”

It has now been 19 years since Terry started his dance with destiny in the field of healthcare at RWJBarnabas Health System. His rise has been a meteoric one with numerous significant hallmarks including his now historic appointment as the first African American president of NBIMC and RWJBarnabas Health System. In addition, he is only one of two blacks in such a position in the State of New Jersey. However, there is a circumstance that places him in an even more challenging “where the air is rare” category. In his 19 years on the job, Terry has called out from work on one occasion. This, along with his 12-hour work days and the fact that he is at his desk on time every day, speak volumes about his work ethic. He undeniably attributes this to his mother and his upbringing. “I was raised by my mom, who had the strongest work ethics of anybody I have ever seen,” he said. “She worked hard and took two buses to get work every day.” Though not a postal employee – she worked at the Veteran’s Administration in Newark —his mother’s work ethic embraced the USPS code. “Rain, snow, sleet, or hail, my mother would not miss work for anything,” Terry recalled, adding, “That is something that has stuck with me.”

With his historic appointment, Terry’s work is now having an impact, not just in the healthcare industry, but at a community level as evidenced by this story he recounted. “I was at an event and after being introduced, a 21-year-old sophomore student came up to me and asked if she could shake my hand because she had never before met a black president/CEO. I got goose bumps,” Terry admitted. “So I am now beginning to understand that this is much bigger than me.”

Michellene Davis, who is executive vice president for Corporate Affairs at RWJBarnabas Health, puts this community pride into perspective: “As the first person of color and first woman to ever ascend to executive vice president at legacy Barnabas Health, I can appreciate the impact of this new appointment to the greater community and to Darrell’s family,” she said. “However, I also deeply appreciate that Darrell is uniquely suited for this role based upon his operations, finance, and healthcare educational experience and his immense love for the Greater Newark community. I have never been prouder to be a part of the RWJBarnabas Health family.”

“I believe that God has placed me in this position so I could help people,” Terry said reflectively. “And that’s what I get to do every day here at RWJBarnabas — help people. It is such a great feeling to know that we make a difference in people’s lives. That everyday we help bring people back to their families, hopefully in a better shape than when they came to us.”

A married father of four and a half children (the half his is godson, who has lived with them since he was in grade school), Terry has a strong commitment to family and family life. “I balance my work and home life by being committed and present at as many family events as possible.” In this regard, he sought the advice of Rev. Phillip Gilmore, pastor of St. John’s Baptist Church in Newark. “Rev. Gilmore’s advice to me was God first, then family, then work. So to me a bad day is when I leave home while my children are still asleep and return after they have gone to bed.” However, Terry ensures that those “bad days” are at a minimum by committing only to what he calls “the happy hour version” of the events he must attend. It is a fitting description, since Terry gives top ranking to “happiness” as one of the most important components to success. “Life is too short not to be happy,” he said, “but no one can make you happy. Happiness is an inside job. “I wholeheartedly love my job, but it is not what makes me happy. I am happy because of who I am and what I do to help people.”

And his job makes him feel special.  He describes it this way: “What makes NBIMC special are the 3,500 employees who work hand-in-hand every day to improve the lives of people in our community.  It is seeing a patient come in and their prognosis is poor.  Yet our doctors, nurses, and clinical staff come together and create a plan that turns that person’s health around.  That makes me feel really good and special.”

And then there are stories like the woman who in five years had both a heart transplant and twins at NBIMC.  “We don’t know of any place else where this has happened,” he said.  “But it speaks volumes about the technology, the skills, and the passion of our physicians.  I am just really proud to be part of something like this.”

Central in Terry’s success is his prayer life, which he is committed to at 4:30 every morning.  Every day, he chooses a different scripture that sets him up to face whatever is before him that day.  But in the times when the “billows roll” and the dark clouds are around, he simply reminds himself of his favorite Bible passage: “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait on the lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart.  Wait, I say, on the Lord.”  (Psalm 27:14) Then he does… and all is well!