Robert Brandow, who led Eastern Maine Medical Center for more than 20 years and oversaw the Bangor hospital’s expansion into a regional health hub, died early Saturday morning. He was 92, according to his son, Jeff Brandow.
When Brandow joined the hospital in 1969, he was the facility’s first administrator with hospital management experience. The hospital administration field was in its relative infancy at the time, but today it defines management of hospitals across the U.S.
Brandow oversaw a significant expansion of the hospital during his tenure, including the addition of a coronary care unit in 1969; a regional radiation center and special care unit for infants and children, both in 1978; a cardiac surgical unit in 1987; and a new emergency department in 1990. He also oversaw the opening of Acadia Hospital, an affiliated psychiatric hospital, in 1992.
“My era has been one of a lot of refinancing and rebuilding,” he told the Bangor Daily News in a September 1993 exit interview.
Brandow was also instrumental in creating the precursor to what is today Northern Light Health, a health care system with 10 hospitals located throughout much of the state.
Brandow was a “visionary and gifted businessman,” Northern Light spokesperson Suzanne Spruce said.
“We are grateful for Mr. Brandow’s many years of service and for his decades of philanthropic support,” she said.
Brandow was born on Nov. 30, 1928, in Canandaigua, New York, to a family from nearby Geneva. The Great Depression would begin less than a year later, during which he began hatching business ventures. Brandow and his brother used to rent out comic books to other children for a penny or two and once organized a neighborhood circus with an entry charge, Jeff Brandow said.
Robert Brandow was valedictorian of his high school class and was accepted into a physics program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. However, he opted to attend the University of Rochester after winning a full scholarship from the New York Board of Regents.
He graduated from the university with a bachelor of arts in general science. However, a turning point would come in 1947, when he was hospitalized with a severe strep infection that got into his kidneys.
Although the doctors told his parents to “expect the worst,” Brandow recovered after six weeks in the hospital, Jeff Brandow said. His experience in the cramped quarters of Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital led him to a lifelong passion for hospital administration, his son said, as he felt many hospitals still looked like they had in the 19th century and needed to change.
He ultimately earned a master’s degree in hospital administration from Northwestern University in Illinois. While he once interned as a surgical technician, Brandow was far more interested in managing a hospital than attending medical school.
“As someone who was focusing on improving the quality of hospitals and the care you get in hospitals, he could have more impact on more people,” Jeff Brandow said.
Robert Brandow spent time working hospital administration jobs in the Rochester area; Gary, Indiana; and Plattsburgh, New York. He married his wife, Alicia, in 1952, and they had six children. They remained married until her death in 2004.
While in Plattsburgh, in 1968, Brandow was invited to give a presentation to the board of what was then Eastern Maine General Hospital. It turned out to be a feeling-out exercise. The hospital had been looking for a new administrator after a consultant found the facility was in dire need of modernization.
Upon becoming hospital administrator in 1969, Brandow began overseeing the expansion and efforts to streamline operations, as the hospital was operating in the red at the time.
Believing that local hospitals needed to be integrated with each other in a rural state like Maine, Brandow formed a hospital management company with co-partner John Johnson that ran Eastern Maine Medical Center and a few other hospitals. The project was the precursor to today’s Northern Light Health system that now includes 10 hospitals and affiliated clinics and physicians’ offices across the state.
Brandow’s job, with its focus on the hospital’s finances, required tough decisions that could lead to disagreements with staff, Jeff Brandow said.
But his focus on patient care was central, his son said. Upon becoming administrator, he told hospital staff that “‘there would never be blood on our doorstep,’” Jeff Brandow said. “They would never deny a patient care because they couldn’t afford to pay for it.”
That policy was ahead of its time. The federal government did not require that hospitals provide emergency treatment to anyone regardless of ability to pay until 17 years later, in 1986.
After retiring in 1993, Robert Brandow and his wife moved to the Portland area to be closer to family. He formed a small antique business with his wife and daughter, and primarily sold porcelain in antique shows across New England. An avid birder, he also traveled across the country to see as many species as possible.
His health remained good until the last three of four months, Jeff Brandow said.
“You can never be fully prepared for losing someone so important in your life,” Jeff Brandow said. “So it’ll be tough. There’s no question about it.”
Correction: A previous version of this report misstated the name of Robert Brandow’s wife.