By Ameera Steward
For the Birmingham Times
A shoulder injury in high school led Lavon Beard, once a highly touted baseball player, to a career he loves.
“I went to [a doctor] in town, and there was this physical therapist I really clicked with. I’d always said, ‘If I don’t do baseball, physical therapy is what I want to do,’” Beard recalled.
Professional baseball may not have worked out, but physical therapy did—in more ways than one.
The 41-year-old is now a licensed physical therapist, who has worked in various roles in health care since 2003. For the past year and a half, Beard has been the director of patient experience at Princeton Baptist Medical Center, a position that gives him the opportunity to “improve employee engagement and increase customer satisfaction,” he said.
Beard also was recently elected to the board for the Alabama chapter of the American College of Healthcare Executives (AHCE), which is comprised of more than 48,000 health care executives. He serves as communications director for the group, as well.
“I really want to try to grow the membership numbers,” said Beard, an AHCE member since 2015. He plans to promote the organization’s activities and events more on social media platforms, including LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook, and he wants to increase the numbers of both younger and older members.
Making the Rounds
Beard was born and raised in Birmingham’s West End community, and working at Princeton Baptist allows him to come back to his neighborhood.
“I always said, ‘I want to move back and get involved with this side of town, with the people I grew up with,’” he said. “I really got involved with the neighborhood. I was the [South Titusville] neighborhood president from 2014 to 2018, and I’ve done a lot of other activities within the [area].”
Beard, who now lives in Hoover, began playing baseball at the age of 5, and his love of the sport was his whole life when he was younger.
“I jokingly say, ‘If I had the opportunity to play on a professional level, I would have. They could have [paid me with] just a Happy Meal and a bus ticket,’” said the one-time Ramsay High School pitcher and shortstop, who suffered a shoulder injury that stalled his pro-baseball aspirations.
After graduating in 1997, he earned a baseball scholarship to and attended Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., where he met his wife, Latoya. Beard completed his undergraduate work in 2001, when he earned a Bachelor of Science in biology, and embarked on an educational journey that led to three master’s degrees and his current leadership roles.
Beard earned a Master of Science in physical therapy from the University of South Alabama in 2003, in addition to two master’s degrees from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)—one in business administration and management in 2013 and another in health care administration in 2016.
Beard served as manager of physical therapy at UAB Hospital for two years. In his current role at Princeton Baptist, he analyzes satisfaction scores, looking for opportunities to boost approval ratings and coaching the staff on ways to improve.
“There are five or six hospitals just in the Birmingham area alone, so our goal is to make sure patients always choose us when they need health care,” he said. “We want to do things to create that whole customer experience, so [patients] say, ‘Oh, I want to come back to Princeton.’”
Since he’s been director of patient experience, Beard has been pleased with the rising patient satisfaction scores, including one quarter in 2019, when Princeton led the entire market. He points to increased “roundings,” walking around and helping guests, as an example of more engagement between the staff and those they serve.
“If you see somebody lost in the hallway, say [to yourself], ‘Let me go help them.’ If you’re on a floor, walk past [an unoccupied] room, and see that a light is on, turn it off,” he said. “As a therapist, I can’t give medicine, but I can still check on you and ask, ‘What do you need? Let me go get your nurse’ or ‘Let me go get the secretary.’ That’s the biggest thing—empowering [people] and getting everybody engaged in those types of techniques.”
Thrill of Competition
Beard and his wife have a 13-year-old son, Loren, who plays baseball and basketball, and an 11-year-old daughter, Lexie, who plays softball and lacrosse.
Beard has been head coach for the Southside baseball team at Avondale Park, and for one year he coached his daughter’s team with the Hoover Softball Association.
“I’ll train them because, with my physical therapy background, I can still do little things to help them be more efficient on the field or on the basketball court and work on certain maneuvers,” he said.
In addition to coaching, Beard also participates in triathlons two to three times a year.
“I’m an older athlete, but I’m a big athlete,” he said. “Throughout the year, I do a lot of cycling, … running, and swimming, all to prepare for my triathlons.”
Beard also considers himself a thrill seeker. He has two motorcycles: one looks like a cruiser and the other is more of a sports bike, which he sometimes races at the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham.
“I enjoy just getting out on nice fall days or anytime throughout the year,” he said. “I just get out on the bike and ride around to decompress. I’ve always [sought] a thrill—so, a lot of adrenaline—from the age of 5 years old, playing ball and really competitive sports. Then, after it was over all of a sudden, I started looking for something to still challenge me and [give me] that adrenaline rush I had when playing sports.”