Robert G. Riney, who began his career at Henry Ford Health 44 years ago when he was a student at Wayne State University, was named president and CEO of the Detroit-based health system Thursday.
Riney, who has served as Henry Ford’s chief operating officer since 2003, replaces Wright Lassiter III, who left in late July to become CEO of CommonSpirit Health, a Chicago-based nonprofit hospital system.
In a 2020 interview with the Free Press, Riney laughed as he recalled his first job at Henry Ford four decades earlier: “I needed a job in a place where I could walk to work,” he said. “I was the afternoon building specialist, which means I was the receptionist at the student nurses dormitory” at Wayne State.
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In the years that followed, Riney worked in almost every part of the health system and rose quickly through the ranks. He served in leadership roles as vice president of organizational design and effectiveness; senior vice president and chief human resources officer; senior vice president and chief administrative officer; president of healthcare operations, and chief operating officer.
“With Bob at the helm, Henry Ford Health is under the guidance of a leader who has seen our organization through some of its greatest challenges, and for whom a lifetime commitment to team members, patients and our communities has been his calling and his mission,” said David Breen, system board chair.
Riney helped lead the five-hospital health system and its 33,000 employees through the coronavirus pandemic, diversifying Henry Ford’s supply chain problems when masks, gloves and gowns were scarce, and through staffing challenges.
He recalled the moment early in the pandemic when it became clear that purchasing personal protective equipment from China — then the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak — had put Henry Ford Health in a precarious place.
“It hit me one day when I was listening to report outs and people saying things like, ‘We have enough masks to get us through the next shift. Or we have enough face shields to get us through the weekend,’ ” he told the Free Press in June 2020. “I remember hearing that, and thinking this cannot be, you know? This just cannot be.
“And so that was the moment when I said there’s a systemic issue that needs to be fixed. … We have got to solve this problem, not just for the immediate, but for the long-term.”
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Riney has served as interim CEO since Lassiter’s departure.
“Henry Ford is home,” Riney said in a statement issued Thursday. “Home to incredible innovation, cutting-edge science, and an unwavering commitment to our colleagues and to the communities we serve. It’s a place where, despite even the most daunting of challenges, making the impossible possible happens every day. I am energized and excited to lead this special organization. I look forward to Team Henry Ford continuing to innovate, excel and grow in serving our patients, members, communities and each other.”
Contact Kristen Shamus: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.Subscribe to the Free Press.