He Uses a Bent for Politics to Serve the Community
One in an ongoing series.
While other teenagers his age were swimming at the community pool, Bill Ryan was home watching the Watergate hearings.
When his peers were getting rides to the mall, Ryan was getting rides to local township committee meetings. “Then I’d come home and try to discuss the mercantile tax with my parents,” he said.
Clearly, Ryan, an executive with Einstein Healthcare Network, was destined for a life in politics.
From the moment he stood in his elementary school cafeteria, transfixed by TV reports about the assassinations of Martin Luther King and then Robert Kennedy, he knew he wanted to devote his life to public service.
He was 15 when he volunteered for his first local political campaign. At 17, he volunteered for his first national campaign, on behalf of U.S. Rep. Peter Kostmayer.
“Government seemed the way to go,” he said.
Before he turned 20, Ryan defeated the chairman of the local Falls Township Democratic committee (who, years later, would become his father-in-law.) He worked on Rep. Kostmayer’s campaign staff. When Kostmayer was defeated in 1980, he became a campaign operative, traveling the country and working to elect Democratic candidates.
In the late 1990s, his life was unfolding as planned. His wife, Kathryn (Sooby) Hill, was elected to the local Bristol Township council, and he was in line to become chair of the Bucks County Democratic Party.
Then illness changed the arc of his life. His wife was diagnosed with cancer, and he needed a stable job with benefits. That eventually brought him to Einstein Healthcare Network, where he’s Assistant Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs.
His journey through the health care system with his wife also redefined his life’s mission.
“Navigating the health care system on behalf of someone who was in treatment made me understand what the system was like,” he said. “We were fortunate. We had insurance and connections and I felt bad for people who didn’t have resources or access and wondered, how do they deal with it? I had to make a difference for the community that Einstein serves.”
So when Ryan lobbies government officials for policies that help disadvantaged patients – whether it’s for Medicaid expansion, for the Affordable Care Act, for state and city legislation that provided more than $500 million in additional funding for hospitals – it’s personal for him.
Ryan was the driving force behind the creation of the North Philadelphia Health Enterprise Zone, a collaboration between government and hospitals and other stakeholders to streamline the provision of health care to underserved communities and address health disparities in North Philadelphia. He arranged for victims who fled hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico to receive medical care at Einstein’s refugee clinic.
Recently, he and his staff received the Salvation Army’s “Doing the Most Good” Community Leadership Award. He was recognized for his “determination, dedication and innovation,” and his efforts to provide “medical services to a wide range of individuals seeking care without regard to their ability to pay.”
Ryan’s wife endured cancer treatment with excruciating side effects for years. After a period of remission, the cancer returned, in 2010. “It was pretty aggressive, and she decided she only wanted palliative care,” he said. She died in 2012; Ryan remarried in 2017.
“We had the opportunity to say goodbye, to have conversations about what the next stage would be like for me,” he said. “She wanted me to continue.”
And so he does. It might not be the political career Ryan envisioned as a teenager, but it’s unquestionably the life of public service he imagined as a third grader awed by the ideals of Kennedy and King.