Local Obituaries

Robert E. Chason credited with vision that transformed UC Davis Medical Center

Robert E. Chason
Robert E. Chason Courtesy of the Chason family

Robert E. Chason is credited with transforming UC Davis Medical Center’s Sacramento campus and expanding its services to communities throughout the region during his 12 years as chief operating officer and chief executive officer.

Chason died May 8 of complications from lymphoma, said his daughter, Caitlin Lippitt. He was 73.

He led efforts to establish cancer centers in partnership with Mercy Medical Center in Merced and Rideout Regional Medical Center in Marysville and oversaw the launch of UC Davis Medical Center’s telemedicine program.

“Bob is a big part of what we are here,” said Thomas Nesbitt, interim vice chancellor for human health services at UC Davis.

“UC Davis will long be grateful for Bob’s vision of becoming a top-tier medical center,” Ann Madden Rice, the medical center’s chief executive officer, said in a written statement.

Chason was hired by UC Davis in 1979 and served 15 years in the Office of Student Affairs as assistant and associate vice chancellor, then as acting vice chancellor. He joined UC Davis Medical Center in 1994 as chief operating officer and was appointed chief executive officer in 2002.

He retired from the university in 2006 but continued to be active in the health care field. He was a member of Rideout Health’s board of directors at the time of his death and served for more than a year as the Marysville-based health care system’s interim CEO.

“Bob really played a major role in transforming the medical center to the Sacramento campus of the University of California,” Nesbitt said.

Chason, he said, made the decision to move the instructional program for students in their first two years of medical school from the Davis campus to Sacramento.

“He was able to identify hospital resources to build the building (to house the program),” Nesbitt said, and he oversaw the hospital’s expansion with construction of the “tower” building.

Chason wanted UC Davis Medical Center to become a regional presence and worked to build its primary care services. He led the development of partnerships with other health care systems to establish the cancer centers in Marysville and Merced.

The cancer centers are operated by the local communities, Nesbitt said, but UC Davis provides some of the physician and research support.

Bob really played a major role in transforming the medical center to the Sacramento campus of the University of California.

Thomas Nesbitt, interim vice chancellor for human health services at UC Davis

Nesbitt said he and many of his colleagues owe their careers to Chason, who had a knack for accessing employees’ strengths and placing them in positions where they could succeed.

“He put them in the right positions and allowed them to pursue their dreams,” Nesbitt said.

Nesbitt said Chason encouraged him to develop the medical center’s telemedicine program to aid physicians and patients at a distance.

Chason also was instrumental in establishing the UC Davis Center for Virtual Care, which provides patient simulators and surgical robots.

Equipping virtual care programs is expensive, Nesbitt said, and only a few such centers exist nationwide. In recognition of Chason’s role in establishing the UC Davis center, “we named one of the first simulators ‘Bob,’ ” Nesbitt said.

John Wright served with Chason on Rideout Health’s board of directors and, as board chairman in September 2014, he asked Chason to step in as interim CEO. Rideout Health was going through a number of structural changes, Wright said, and the CEO had left. Chason filled the post for 15 months, until a new CEO was hired.

As an administrator, Chason was adept at working with other hospitals and with state and federal regulators, Wright said. Although Wright said he often found himself getting a bit hot under the collar when dealing with regulators, Chason was “unflappable.”

Chason was born May 30, 1943, in McKeesport, Pa., to Walter and Evelyn Chason and grew up in Fairless Hills, Pa. He had a half-sister and two half-brothers, his daughter said.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from Wilimington College and a master’s in education from Miami University.

“He found early on that he had a skill at bringing people with different backgrounds together,” Lippitt said. “He was a master mediator and negotiator and enjoyed solving problems. The main focus of his work was always to benefit the students, patients and citizens of the communities he worked for.”

He and his wife of 50 years, Wendy, also were great supporters of UC Davis athletics. “My parents have traveled together to support Aggie football all over the state each football season for as long as I can remember,” Lippitt said.

In addition to his wife Wendy Chason of Davis and daughter Lippitt of Albuquerque, N.M., Chason is survived by a son Jonathan Chason of Fair Oaks and three grandchildren.

A service for Robert E. Chason was held with family and friends in Davis on May 13, Lippitt said.

Contributions in Robert E. Chason’s memory may made to support “Words Take Wing, Honoring Diversity in Children’s Literature.” The UC Davis School of Education, along with partners Sutter Health/Sutter Children’s Hospital, Sacramento, and the Sacramento Public Library, host the annual Words Take Wing event to celebrate children’s literature as art. Lippitt said it was one of the programs her parents worked on together.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy