Profile: Fred Benjamin
Fred Benjamin, COO, Medicalodges
Whether it's representing the American Health Care Association, Medicalodges, or another of his interests, there's a frequent comment about Fred Benjamin: “That man is everywhere.”
Benjamin says his work ethic was instilled early through watching his father, a civil engineer, attend college classes at night for 20 years to complete a Northwestern University degree in math. The family, which included a brother and two sisters, lived in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, with grandparents living upstairs in their two-flat.
After his grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and it progressed, “the whole house was in a tizzy,” he remembers. “We did that for about five years, and then they made the tough decision to put Grandpa in a nursing home. Seeing the conditions, I thought, ‘There needs to be a better way.'”
Benjamin was selected by his high school to be in Mayor Richard J. Daley's youth foundation trainee program, which helped him put himself through college. But there was an even better result from it: His future wife, Sharon, was in the same program.
“I met my wife right under the Civic Center plaza bird [sculpture],” he recalls.
The couple settled in a Chicago suburb, where they raised Nicole, now a nurse practitioner at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, and Jonathan, who works for the Asia Group in Washington, D.C. Benjamin spent 13 years at Grant Hospital, a community teaching hospital in Chicago, rising to become a vice president.
While at Grant, he had a fateful meeting at a conference with a nursing home executive, who said, “Why do you hate us?” The conversation led Benjamin to visit more nursing homes and ultimately improve care coordination.
In 2009, he was recruited to Kansas-based Medicalodges. “It's the type of company I value being involved with,” he says, although leaving Chicago was a difficult decision for him and his wife.
In his work as the company's chief operating officer, Benjamin “has been a total breath of fresh oxygen,” says Cindy Luxem, president and CEO of the Kansas Health Care Association.
“He has insight into other types of systems because he had been involved his hospital administration work,” she says. “It's a blessing to have someone like that in Kansas.”
A “political junkie” and amateur photographer, Benjamin, 63, enjoys shooting landscapes. That seems fitting since he and his wife are avid hikers.
“We're national park junkies who are most comfortable in a pair of hiking boots and Northface,” he notes. Recent trips have included Beijing and visits to a second home in Florida, and they hope to see Alaska soon. They're also involved in the local Jewish community in Tulsa, OK, with him having served on the board of synagogue B'nai Emunah and her on the board of the Sherwin Miller Museum of Art in Tulsa.
Professionally, Benjamin said he is interested in working on Medicare Advantage plans and developing relationships in the American Health Care Association. He's been a frequent participant on industry panels and testified on Capitol Hill about veterans affairs and immigration reform that would benefit nursing homes.
Benjamin is “phenomenal,” says Dana Halvorson, director for not-for-profit and constituent Services at AHCA.
“I don't know how he does everything that he does,” she says. “I think the world of Fred. He makes the issues understandable.”