When he was a student at Calvin, Brian Brasser ’94 got a job working at the loading dock at Butterworth Hospital in downtown Grand Rapids. Laundry, food, life-saving medicine, medical equipment—it all passed through the shipping and receiving department where he worked. The job opened Brasser’s eyes to the inner workings of a hospital.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but this job gave me a unique perspective on the complexities that exist in healthcare, and all the coordination that occurs every moment of every day to support our front line caregivers.”
Today, Brasser oversees the operations of the Acute Health service line across the Spectrum Health hospitals, as well as the overall operations at the Grand Rapids hospitals – Blodgett Hospital, Butterworth Hospital, Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
Since the start of the pandemic, Brasser has served as the leader of Spectrum Health System Command Center, which has coordinated all aspects of the organization’s COVID-19 response: from expanding capacity in the hospitals to COVID-19 testing to the distribution of the COVID-19 booster.
“I see that there’s a real providential journey that the organization has been on.” Several years ago, Brasser led a major technology initiative at Spectrum Health to bring all the hospitals and physician practices onto the same electronic health records system. Being on the same system allowed the organization to speak the same language and coordinate care more efficiently—which are vital in our current times.
“We focused on system integration long before 2020, but it equipped us to be able to navigate the pandemic in ways we never would have done before,” Brasser said.
“There have been some really dark times over the past 24 months (of the pandemic), But even then, humanity shines through. Our teams are resilient. They are stretched so thin, and yet they are so compassionate and caring. It’s truly remarkable to see, and it happens again and again.”
It’s times like these, where he says we’re reminded of the limitations of humans and how much we need God.
Brasser’s first wife died 10 years ago, when his five sons were between the ages of 5 and 24. “God’s promises are never more real and sustaining than when we are in a time of grief and crisis. When you don’t know what will come next and things are incredibly turbulent, those are the times that have strengthened my faith.” Today, Brasser is remarried and all of his children – and two grandchildren – are doing well. “We are truly blessed.”
‘DEEPLY MEANINGFUL WORK’
Brasser grew up down the street from Calvin, and said it was evident early on that Calvin would be his college choice.
But picking a major wasn’t as clear to him. He switched majors three times, landing on nursing. “What solidified it for me was doing clinical work. I got exposure to interaction between patients and clinicians,” he said. “It’s deeply meaningful work.”
His job at the loading dock helped him secure an externship in nursing, which led to a nursing position working nights. “Someone asked me if I wanted to be in leadership. I could see the hassles leaders have—and I thought there’s not a chance,” he said.
But God had other plans. “Six months after I had that thought, I had my first formal leadership position, and I’ve been on that trajectory ever since,” said Brasser.
He became the chief operating officer at Spectrum Health Kelsey Hospital in Lakeview, Michigan, in 2004, and became the president of that rural hospital in 2013, along with a neighboring hospital in nearby Greenville. He came back home to Grand Rapids in 2016.
“I found that my nursing background was really important throughout my career. My focus is operations, but my clinical background gives me context for the decisions I make,” he said.