In 2018, UHF was pleased to present the award to Stanley Brezenoff, for his decades of commitment to New York and New Yorkers and his accomplishment as a public official and hospital CEO.
Few New Yorkers have done more for the health and well-being of the city’s residents than Stanley Brezenoff. For more than 40 years, mayors and governors have turned to him to take on some of New York’s toughest challenges, among them public hospitals, social services, housing, transportation, and employment. The health care sector also sought his wisdom and skill to lead both Maimonides Medical Center and Continuum Health Partners over two decades rife with challenge and change.
In April 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio pulled Stan, then 80, out of retirement a second time to become interim chairman of the New York City Housing Authority, the largest public housing agency in North America. “I’m failing at retirement,” Stan admitted. It is perhaps his only failure.
His many and varied roles all have a crucial commonality that fits with his own bedrock values—they serve people. “Everything he does, every decision, is informed by his fundamental concern for the patient or for society,” says Kenneth Raske, president of Greater New York Hospital Association. “He is driven by his compassion for the people of New York.”
Stan’s no-nonsense style and unpretentious manner are personal hallmarks, but so is his uncanny ability to hire and inspire the best and the brightest—Jo Ivey Boufford, MD, Pamela Brier, Kathryn Martin, Ram Raju, MD, Tony Shorris, and Dominick Stanzione among them. He is renowned for listening carefully during heated policy debates, then making quick decisions that address one overriding question—how do we best help the public? “I believe that government can make a difference in the lives of people if it’s well done, if it’s well directed,” he says.
A lifelong New Yorker, Stan was born in East New York, majored in philosophy at Brooklyn College, and became a civil rights organizer. He soon joined the Ford Foundation, where he developed programs for youth employment. After nine years at Ford he entered the public sector when Mayor Ed Koch appointed him Commissioner for the Department of Employment in 1978 and then a year later Commissioner of the Human Resources Administration.
In 1981, Mayor Koch named Stan president of what is now New York City Health + Hospitals, the world’s largest municipal health care system—handing him the opportunity to transform health care for the disadvantaged. At the time, the public hospitals were facing a budget crisis that would put to the test Stan’s reputation as a skilled manager of complex organizations.
“He had a really high standard for what the patients deserved, and was avid about both good and respectful care,” says Pamela Brier, former president of Maimonides Medical Center, a long-time colleague who first worked with Stan in the public hospital system. During Stan’s four-year tenure, he brought the system’s $1.8 billion annual budget into line, secured full accreditation for all 11 hospitals, improved emergency services and overcrowded clinics, and expanded psychiatric care.
Stan returned to City Hall in 1985 to become Mayor Koch’s first deputy mayor, then in 1990 accepted another huge challenge—this time from Governors Mario Cuomo and Jim Florio—executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, responsible for the region’s bridges, tunnels, ports, and airports.
The health care sector came calling again in 1995, when Stan was named president and chief executive officer of Maimonides Medical Center. During his eight-year tenure Maimonides expanded to become one of the city’s premier medical institutions. He left in 2003 to take over as president and CEO of Continuum Health Partners, which included Beth Israel, St. Luke’s, and Roosevelt hospitals, and the New York Eye & Ear Infirmary.
Stan spent a decade at Continuum, ultimately managing its merger with Mount Sinai Medical Center in 2013 before retiring… for a moment. Mayor de Blasio called on him to negotiate the city’s labor contracts, appointed him chairman of the Board of Corrections, and in November 2016 asked Stan to return to New York City Health + Hospitals as interim chief executive. Over the next year, despite severe budget constraints, he expanded primary and specialty care units in underserved communities, paved the way for new leadership, and significantly enhanced the bottom line.
“Where would the city be without him?” asked one civic leader. “He is the face of public and community service.”
On behalf of New York’s entire health care community, United Hospital Fund pays tribute to this exceptional public servant and his unmatched legacy. Stan Brezenoff’s contributions to the health and well-being of all New Yorkers have improved the lives of millions, and we are all thankful.
Reprinted from the 2018 United Hospital Fund Gala program