The Random House Dictionary defines the word "foster" as "to promote the growth or development of; further; encourage." When it comes to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Foster Aborn lives up to his name.
A lay leader at BIDMC for more than 35 years, Aborn has been a driving force in advancing the fiscal health of the medical center and helping its administration navigate the complex economic environment of academic medicine. His involvement was precipitated by his own professional accomplishments. Armed with an M.B.A. from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, Aborn has led a successful banking career, culminating in serving as vice chairman and chief investment officer at John Hancock Financial Services where he oversaw an $80 billion portfolio before his retirement in 2000. "And even though my career path seemed smooth sailing," he recalls of the time when he joined Hancock after an 11-year stint at Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh, "I found myself wondering if I could do something even more worthwhile for society."
Any lingering doubts about his contributions should be something of the past. With extensive volunteer experience in the nonprofit sector, the board memberships Aborn has held at organizations in the Boston area alone number in the double digits. But his relationship with BIDMC holds a special place in his heart because it encompasses what he sees as the city's foundational trifecta. "I hadn't been in Boston long when I observed that what made this place tick was finance, medicine, and education," he notes, adding that it was important to him to become involved with all three. When he was invited to become an overseer at New England Deaconess Hospital, it was an opportunity he couldn't pass up. "I knew this might be my entrée into medicine," he says. "And while I wanted to learn about medicine itself, my real motivation was that I knew medicine was a force, and I wanted to understand how it was a force and why."
To understand a force, Aborn became a force himself. Rapidly rising through BIDMC's lay leadership ranks, he ultimately joined the Board of Directors and became chair of the Finance Committee, a highly sought after and influential position. He is particularly proud of his efforts to help usher the medical center through a complex merger and multiple administrations and to markedly improve the hospital's bond rating. He won BIDMC's Robert M. Melzer Leadership Award in 2006 for his achievements. Since finishing his term as finance chair, Aborn has had two people who worked for him step into his shoes and has been pointedly, but delicately, vocal about ensuring that the committee's membership has the "financial gravitas" to tackle the medical center's most pressing fiscal issues. "So the Finance Committee continues to be in good hands," he smiles.
Knowing the economic health of the nonprofit hospital is inextricably tied to fundraising, Aborn has graciously extended his monetary expertise to BIDMC's Office of Development. It is a role he has eased into comfortably, drawing parallels between the "polite sales relationship" of the fundraising professional and the lending officer of his early career. "When you've got a good product, I don't mind asking and I don't mind being asked," he notes. Aborn believes that emphasizing the incredible lifesaving work of the medical center and shedding the jargon that can sometimes burden the development profession would make charitable giving more accessible and appealing, something BIDMC will need in the changing landscape of health care reform. "We wouldn't be the preeminent hospital that we are without philanthropy," he says. "And it will be the bulwark of our organization's future. We can't overemphasize its importance."
As a result, Aborn has been encouraging of the medical center's philanthropic ventures both large and small. Involved with John Hancock's Boston Marathon program for years, he has been instrumental in getting the organization to donate numbers to support BIDMC. Runners have raised money for two critical health equity programs: Healthy Champions at Bowdoin Street Health Center to promote wellness among inner-city youth and a research project to reduce the dramatic prevalence of kidney disease among African Americans. For Aborn, the choice of programs are a source of personal pride. "Discrimination, or any form of social injustice, turns me totally off," he says. Aborn notes, too, that it's only appropriate that these programs have found a home at BIDMC, a place whose founding institutions were born from a fight against bias in medicine. He says that the medical center's reach now embraces wide-ranging and diverse constituencies with respect to the patient, the clinician, and the lay leader alike. "It just happens that the hospital is a great place for anyone to be proud to say I'm a director, I'm a trustee, I'm an overseer," says Aborn. "I should know, that's just how I feel."