OAKLAND -- Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan has tapped Bernard Tyson, its current president and chief operating officer, to become chief executive officer of the health care organization.

Tyson, who will become the first African-American to head Kaiser, the nation's largest integrated health care system, takes over the CEO post next spring. He acknowledged Monday that he faces plenty of challenges.

"Right in front of us is to continue to get ready for the rollout of health care reform," Tyson said in an interview with this newspaper. "We also have a big agenda around affordability. We want to demonstrate that you can have great care and service and that it can be affordable."

Tyson will succeed George Halvorson, Kaiser's current CEO and chairman. After taking over as CEO in May of next year, Tyson will become chairman in December 2013.

Tyson conceived of and headed up Kaiser's high-profile "Thrive" campaign, which he called "a big part of our marketing effort."

"The whole point is to bring health awareness into the minds and hearts of our members and the American people," he said. "That message is as relevant today as when we created it."

Wanda Jones, president of San Francisco-based New Century Healthcare Institute, a nonprofit that tracks the health care industry, also gave the Thrive campaign high marks.

"Thrive is understandable, it's popular," Jones said. "It's hard to fully quantify its effects, but Kaiser is consistent with what they do. Their programs emphasize a healthy lifestyle. I like that about them."

Oakland-based Kaiser serves more than 9 million members, generates nearly $50 billion in annual revenue, has more than 180,000 employees and 17,000 affiliated physicians.

Tyson will be kept busy supervising the completion of seven major hospitals on the West Coast, including three in the Bay Area. Over the next few years, Kaiser will be opening new hospitals in Oakland, San Leandro and Redwood City.

Born and raised in Vallejo, Tyson has lived in the Bay Area his entire life, with the exception of a brief stint in Washington, D.C. He now resides in Pleasanton.

"This is the most challenging and exciting time Kaiser has been through," Tyson said. "There is no question the health care industry can do better. We will have opportunities to improve. But the fundamental model is definitely working."

Contact George Avalos at 925-977-8477. Follow him at twitter.com/george_avalos.