OakBend Medical Center CEO Joe Freudenberger Leads by Example

COVER STORY | By MG Angulo –

OakBend Medical Center CEO Joe Freudenberger at the kick-off of OakBend’s Vision 2020 Campaign.

The philosophy Joe Freudenberger lives by easily weaves its way through his personal and professional life. As a married father of three adult children, he considers every day as an opportunity to actively better himself, and as the CEO of OakBend Medical Center, Freudenberger stresses that he feels motivated to improve every single day.

“We’re in the business of making a difference by saving and changing lives,” said Freudenberger. “We don’t have the latitude to stop improving, because if we do, we are failing our patients.”

A person needs less than three minutes with Freudenberger to understand distinctive and solicitous patient care is central to his ambitions as OakBend CEO. “We have a lot of technology to diagnose and treat patients,” he said, detailing current digital medical equipment in use today. “This technology can improve the outcome of a patient’s health more so than what could be done for patients 50 or 100 years ago. And yet, as we use more and more of this technology, we have engaged the patient less and less. The patient is the most powerful tool we have.”

When Freudenberger was named the CEO of OakBend Medical Center in 2007, he immediately set about to change the culture of the hospital to focus on its most powerful tool. The crux of the change was to treat the patient as the leader of their health care team.

“Having patients involved with their recovery is beneficial for everyone,” he said. “When a patient is proactive in their care, they will have a better outcome and experience, as will the caregivers.”

However, this new culture he was building would completely alter the traditional health care provider model, so new models for patient care, hiring, business and staffing had to be developed. Additionally, the messaging, leadership and staff development tools needed to be updated, as well as the equipment.

The shift to patient-centered care was not an easy one and resulted in a number of employees leaving the hospital. “Culture change is always a significant challenge,” Freudenberger said, but he did not falter in meeting the trials of the change head-on. For those willing to stay and try a new approach, Freudenberger demonstrated how changing the culture worked and encouraged those on the leadership team to give it a try.

And when they did, they began to understand the vision the new CEO had. “I am energized by challenges,” Freudenberger said. “The ability to resolve seemingly intractable problems is what I consider my greatest strength.”

The Pursuit of Excellence

Norma Petrosewicz with Laura and Joe Freudenberger at the 10th Anniversary of OakBend Medical Center Williams Way Campus.

It is common knowledge that Freudenberger is in constant pursuit of excellence – but not for recognition or awards. Rather, his drive is fueled by his commitment to evolve OakBend to next level in patient engagement and outcomes. He confirmed that he holds himself to high standards and holds employees to the same expectation.

“I am committed to the community, to being a philanthropist and being loyal to staff and the Board,” Freudenberger said. “As CEO I try to set the example that hard work and commitment to excellence is the most direct pathway to being successful.” 

Whether the employee is clinical or non-clinical, the role of every person at OakBend is to save lives, he said.  It is a mantra that has served the hospital system well over the past 13 years since Freudenberger’s arrival.

In addition to improving patient engagement at the hospital, Freudenberger’s efforts grew OakBend from $160 million in gross revenues to $1 billion in 10 years; expanded locations from six to over 50; and installed innovative programs including No Wait ER and the Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) Unit.  OakBend now has three hospitals, is the largest health care system based in Fort Bend County, and the only remaining independent hospital in the Greater Houston Area.

Being a part of a team that helped two independent nonprofit hospital systems sustain their missions and thrive is what Freudenberger considers his greatest professional accomplishment. Only one other achievement, a personal one, can rival it: “Courting my wife, Laura, of 35 years and raising three amazing children to adulthood,” he said.

Joe Freudenberger, Allison Capetill, Bhavisha (BJ) Patel, Michelle Ziakas, May Tape and Norma Petrosewicz at the Stepping Out Against Stroke in March 2018 at the George Park in Richmond.

The Work of a Leader

Prior to his leadership at OakBend Medical Center, Freudenberger had a powerful impact as a chief financial officer for 11 years and as a health care consultant for 10 years. A snapshot of his career’s progression reads like a dossier of major feats.

At Memorial Health Systems of East Texas, where he was CFO for six years, Freudenberger re-engineered the operations and culture of the $500 million health care system of four hospitals, raising net income from a $9 million loss to an $11 million gain in five years.

Community Involvement

OakBend Medical Center CEO Joe Freudenberger said some of the most rewarding experiences in his life come from his involvement in the community. For 10 years he was a coach, umpire and president for Westbury Little League, and for eight years, he was involved with the Central Fort Bend Chamber Alliance, serving as treasurer, vice president and then president.

Freudenberger has also held board memberships with the Fort Bend Economic Development Council, Polly Ryon Foundation, OakBend Health System and T.W. Davis Family YMCA.  And for the past eight years, he has been on the board of The Child Advocates of Fort Bend, where he is still active. “All of my community service efforts have been and continue to be phenomenal experiences,” he said.

Freudenberger is also a member of Healthcare Financial Management Association, American College of Healthcare Executives and was named the 2017 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Gulf Coast Region, Health Care winner and was named an Honoree in the Houston Business Journal’s Most Admired CEOs.

For more information on Freudenberger and OakBend Medical Center, visit www.OakBendMedCenter.org.


Joe Freudenberger standing in front of the Vision 2020 Donor Wall, located in the main hallway toward the patient elevators. The plaque on the right states, “With great appreciation for the generosity of community members committed to creating a first-class healing environment for all of our patients.” The wall recognizes donors who have given $1,000 or more to OakBend’s Vision 2020 Campaign.

In the year he was CFO for Myron F. Steves & Co. – a privately held nationwide insurance wholesaler – he eliminated a $500,000 deficit and achieved budgeted profits of $2,000,000 in six months. And in the four years as CFO at Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center, Freudenberger directed organization-wide customer service enhancements, resulting in the emergency department service ranking rising from the first percentile to 75th percentile.

As a senior manager for Deloitte & Touche Management Consulting for a decade, Freudenberger managed a project to re-engineer operations for a 2,000-bed urban teaching hospital system, and in doing so increased revenues by 50 percent, collections by 60 percent and reduced accounts receivable by 50 percent.

“My mom would say I sought leadership from the day I was born,” Freudenberger said with a chuckle.

Leaders, he said, can focus in the middle of the storm. They are able to solve significant problems, especially those viewed as unmanageable, and have the ability to encourage and develop people. Freudenberger said he is such a leader, but the statement falls humbly from his mouth. “No leader is any stronger than the team they work with.”

Joe Freudenberger, Ashley Sanders and Eunice Caluag. Photos by Alisa Murray Photography.

Every month around 100 hospital leaders gather for sessions of professional development, and it is at these events when Freudenberger provides updates on the hospital’s achievements and challenges. It also serves as an opportunity for employees to ask questions, address issues and work toward solutions.

As CEO, Freudenberger said he strives to provide the hospital’s leaders with the tools to continue the hospital’s vision. For example, during those monthly development sessions, a specific leadership characteristic is discussed. The sessions, he said, help the employees grow into a collaborative team that strives for excellence.

“Pushing for improvement can be challenging,” said Freudenberger, who spearheaded the transformation of OakBend’s culture during the worst downturn the health care industry had seen in 100 years. “But the challenge is worth it when the cause is right, he said, mentioning the hospital’s mission – To provide exceptional, compassionate health care for our community, regardless of ability to pay

Visit www.OakBendMedCenter.org for more information about OakBend Medical Center.