Robert E. Chason, retired chief executive officer of the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento and a former administrator in Student Affairs on the main UC Davis campus, died Monday (May 8) following a brief illness. He was 73.
He held leadership roles at UC Davis for 27 years, starting in the Office of Student Affairs, where he served from 1979 to 1994 as an assistant vice chancellor and associate vice chancellor, and acting vice chancellor.
“While I did not have the opportunity to work with Bob Chason, I know well the legacy he leaves on both the Sacramento and Davis campuses,” Interim Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter said. “Whether he was working with students, patients or the community, he was their staunch advocate and led with what was best for them.”
Chason joined the medical center in 1994 to guide day-to-day operations as chief operating officer and was appointed chief executive officer in 2002. He retired in 2006.
Vision, passion, collaboration
Known for his vision, passion and collaborative approaches to health care, Chason helped to transform the practice and delivery of medicine in Northern California. He developed strong relationships with health care providers and community leaders, partnering to solve ever-changing health care challenges faced by patients and health systems.
Among his many achievements was effectively bringing together Sacramento region hospital systems to collectively tackle communitywide issues, including emergency department overcrowding and nursing shortages, and working closely with rural areas to bring specialty care and services to those communities.
“Bob led the transformation of UC Davis Medical Center from a leading community hospital into a nationally renowned academic health system with state-of-the art education and research facilities,” said Thomas Nesbitt, interim vice chancellor for Human Health Sciences at UC Davis. “Even people who never had the opportunity to work with Bob benefit from his vision — students in our Education Building, faculty and staff who moved into the Davis Tower, and patients throughout Northern California through the outreach programs he initiated. Bob’s mentorship and friendship shaped many careers, including my own.”
He spearheaded efforts to establish jointly operated cancer centers with Mercy Medical Center in Merced and Rideout Regional Medical Center (formerly Rideout Memorial Hospital) in Marysville, and was instrumental in developing collaborations with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, expanding the UC Davis Cancer Center’s basic science research program. During his tenure with the UC Davis Medical Center, the cancer center achieved designation from the National Cancer Institute.
‘Preparing us for the future’
“Bob had a fantastic ability to support UC Davis Health’s four-part academic, research, patient care and community mission while also keeping a keen eye on operational management of its clinical enterprise and financial performance,” Nesbitt said. “He successfully led the medical center through a time of great change, providing stability while at the same time preparing us for the future.”
Chason led bold investments that propelled UC Davis forward as a pioneer in technology adoption for clinical care and education of health professionals. Under his leadership, the UC Davis Medical Center implemented its systemwide electronic medical record. In addition, he oversaw the launch and expansion of the medical center’s renowned telemedicine program and helped to establish the Center for Health and Technology to drive innovative approaches to distance medicine and learning.
He also established the UC Davis Center for Virtual Care to enhance health professionals’ training through sophisticated patient simulators and surgical robotics. The center now trains more than 11,000 medical, nursing and allied-health students each year.
“UC Davis Medical Center will long be grateful for Bob's vision of becoming a top-tier medical center,” said Ann Madden Rice, who succeeded Chason as chief executive officer. “That vision has been realized due to the pioneering programs that he launched and his never-wavering belief in our mission.”
Helping local communities
Professionally and personally, Chason worked to improve the health and welfare of local communities. During his career and in retirement, Chason devoted his personal time and expertise to solving health care issues throughout Northern California. Most recently, he volunteered much of his time supporting the West Davis Active Adult Community, a proposed senior housing development in Davis. He was an active board member of Rideout Health, where he also served as interim CEO from 2014 to 2015.
Before joining UC Davis in 1979, Chason spent 12 years at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he held several positions including assistant vice president for business administration. He earned a bachelor's degree from Wilmington College (Ohio) and a Master of Education degree from Miami University (Florida).
Chason is survived by his wife of 50 years, Wendy, their two children, Jonathan (Hilary) and Caitlin (Chris), and three grandchildren, Natalie, Ben and Emily.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. Gifts can be made online or by mail, using this donor form and this address: UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, Health Sciences Development, 4900 Broadway, Suite 1150, Sacramento 95820. For more information, call 916-734-9433.