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Health & Medicine

D CEO’s Excellence in Healthcare Awards

These leaders seek to recapture the spirit that attracted them to caregiving in the first place.
By  |
Ernie Sadau

Earlier this year, a prominent independent family doctor was asked why he chose a career in medicine. He didn’t have to pause to think. It was because of the physician he saw while growing up in Gainesville—a man who went to his church and who treated the sick in his own office. He was a figure in the community, a sort of medical mayor. Despite an influx of new administrative headaches in today’s healthcare delivery system, the desire to provide that level of service is something most physicians will tell you they’re searching for.

D CEO began its Excellence in Healthcare awards two years ago to honor standouts in the industry from the previous 12 months. But we also hoped it would be a summation of the year in North Texas healthcare. This year, perhaps more than the others, you’ll see the trends that are moving the industry embodied in the winners. There’s consolidation, building market share to gather more patients to manage the health of a larger population. There are efforts to tackle the societal implications of diabetes incidence in poor neighborhoods, overcoming the challenges of living in food deserts, of not having access to transportation. There are independent doctors who are aligning with other independents, teaming up in order not to be swallowed whole by a health system. There are innovators who are using technology to take healthcare out of the hospital and into the home. But all share a common thread: adapt to the market forces that have made medicine more of a business than ever, and try to regain the intimacy that attracted so many caregivers to the profession in the first place.

Ernie Sadau

CEO, Christus Health

Outstanding Healthcare Executive

It seems a bit ironic: A multinational healthcare provider based in Irving with $6 billion in annual revenue has zero hospitals and health clinics in North Texas. But, that’s Christus. Maybe you can thank former Dallas Mayor J. Erik Jonsson, who helped create Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Ernie Sadau, Christus’ CEO, says easy access to the airport is the only way he’d be able to take those trips to Colombia. The company expanded there this year, and also acquired East Texas’ landmark community system Trinity Mother Frances. Stateside, Christus’ presence extends all the way from Corpus Christi up through Tyler. And, those folks are learning the lessons Sadau is taking away from the nonprofit Catholic system’s experiences in Mexico, Chile, and Colombia, where it collectively generates about $1 billion in annual revenue. The lessons: retail health, telemedicine, more clinics, and fewer hospital stays. And, the lessons are paying off. Revenue at Christus has increased by $2 billion in the last two years.

Finalists: Bruce Meyer, UT Southwestern Medical Center; Gary Brock, Baylor Scott & White Health


Dr. Tawanda Gumbo

Dr. Tawanda Gumbo

Director of the Center for Infectious Diseases, Research, and Experimental Therapeutics at Baylor Institute for Immunology Research

Achievement in Medical Research

Some of the world’s most important tuberculosis research is happening in East Dallas. Dr. Tawanda Gumbo has dedicated his life’s work to eradicating TB—an infectious disease that affects, frankly, few Americans. But globally, there are more than 10 million cases annually, and TB killed 1.8 million people last year. Gumbo and his team of 15 researchers have developed a technology that allows them to test potential medication combinations and how they interact with antibiotics that are both resistant and susceptible to various strains of TB. He can do this for kids and adults alike, even studying the impact to a patient’s RNA—short for ribonucleic acid, one of three primary macromolecules essential for all forms of life—based on where they live and their diet. He’s drawn the support of the World Health Organization, and believes the research will be key to determining the right drugs to treat the unique strains of TB. The technology can also be used to test treatments for other infectious diseases.


Julie-Hall Barrow

Vice President of Virtual Health and Innovation, Children’s Health

Achievement in Innovation

In 2014, when Children’s Medical Center rolled out a media strategy around its rebrand to the Children’s Health, some questioned why it mattered. A name is just a name. But Children’s had a message within those words that would be revealed later: it would be a pediatric health system extending into schools and homes, onto football fields and classrooms, its providers transmitting over telephone and streaming video. Julie Hall-Barrow has led the integration of that technology in building the health system of the future. Now, patients swallow an ingestible microchip made by a company called Proteus that monitors patient vitals after a pill is taken. Now, kids can be seen with telemedicine in their schools. The system acquired a company that does house calls when summoned from an app, similar to Uber. They’ll even see parents. Children’s Health was right: It’s no longer a simple medical center, and it has achieved that goal through aggressive, wide-scale innovation.

Finalists: Jason Gorevic of Teladoc, Inc.; John Olajide, Axxess


Healing Hands Ministries/ Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas/ NorthwestBible Church

Achievement in Community Outreach

Here’s a challenge: offer coordinated healthcare services to a community that speaks more than 30 languages and often lacks insurance. Vickery Meadow is a three-mile swath of apartment complexes near Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas. Geographically it’s a stone’s throw from Lake Highlands, but it might as well be a world away economically and culturally. To help these 40,000 residents, many of them refugees, Presby teamed with the nearby Northwest Bible Church and Healing Hands Ministries. Texas Health provided a building for a community center where Healing Hands opened a satellite clinic earlier this year (its main location is on Upper Greenville Avenue). The community can take English classes, but they can also see a family physician. And so far, in the venture’s first year, more than 5,000 have.

Finalists: Methodist Mansfield Medical Center


Anna Mae Walter

Texas Health Resources Presbyterian Hospital Denton

Outstanding Healthcare Volunteer

When 98-year-old Anna Mae Walter’s husband passed away 15 years ago, she moved to Denton to be closer to her daughter and granddaughter. Soon, she she found herself occupying her time volunteering at Texas Health Resources Presbyterian Hospital Denton. Now, more than 3,200 volunteer hours later, she comes in to answer questions for patients, secretly hoping that one will ask how to get to the newborn unit. Over the years, Walter has knitted countless tiny caps for babies in the neonatal intensive care unit, participating in a craft group that’s kept hundreds of tiny heads warm. In 2015, system CEO Barclay Berdan presented her with an award for her service. And, even with more than 75 total years volunteering, she has no intention of slowing down.

Finalists: Paulette Krause of Baylor Scott & White Health; Janice Womble of Methodist Mansfield Medical Center



Dr. Johnny East, Dr. Brandon Knutson, and Shane Funk

Medical Devices / Technology

It’s a bit jarring to see a human spine and skull and ribs suspended in a human-shaped hunk of clear, solidified gel. When you touch it, the thing has some give, similar to flesh, and you can see where the vertebrae are. Physicians, young and old, can train on how and where to apply steroid injections, and the bone appears true-to-life in X-ray screens. The creation is made of ballistic gel, and co-founder Johnny East got the idea from his father, who casually mentioned seeing a torso made of the gel successfully take a shotgun blast on a History Channel show. The patent was approved this year. Previously, physicians trained on cadavers, which disintegrated within hours. With Biotras’ AsTris project, universities and providers and medical device companies can use the synthetic training product again and again. Just heat up the gel, and it will re-form. 


Sale of Thermi to Almirall

Outstanding Healthcare Deal

Spanish pharmaceutical giant Almirall spent $80 million to acquire startup Thermi, an Irving medical device company, after the startup tripled its revenue in less than three years. Thermi founders Paul Herchman and Kevin O’Brien had global ambitions after realizing they were alone in the market. No other medical device but Thermi’s allowed dermatologists and plastic surgeons control over exactly how much heat they could apply to their patients’ bodies in non-invasive and micro-invasive procedures. It didn’t take long for Almirall to notice. After putting in $7.5 million and watching the company grow, it decided to buy the whole thing last January. The company is now a subsidiary that continues to operate in Irving, and Herchman and O’Brien are on the way to realizing their international ambitions.

Finalists: Aetna forms health plan with Texas Health Resources; Baylor Scott & White Research Institute pairs with Baylor College of Medicine


Dr. Jamison Albracht

Dr. Jamison Albracht
Dr. Jamison Albracht

Village Health Partners

Outstanding Healthcare Practitioner

For Dr. Jamison Albracht, the decision to think bigger, to run a medical home that analyzes the quality and cost of the healthcare he provides, can be traced back to the concept of family medicine. He left his physician group in 2007 to join one that was just beginning, betting on a new model that brought specialty physicians under the same roof—literally—as the primary care doctors. Albracht ultimately was named president of the new group, Village Health Partners, in 2015. He now oversees 40 physicians while still treating patients. And it’s all in the name of family medicine, he says—the cornerstone of our healthcare delivery system, where we learn about small ailments and identify larger ones that need a closer look. That was always his primary focus, he adds, and it’s only blossomed into helping more doctors do the same.


Joel Allison

Outgoing CEO of Baylor Scott & White

Lifetime Achievement
Joel Allison
Joel Allison

Sitting in his office one recent weekday morning, Joel Allison fought back tears. He’d spent the past 90 minutes reflecting on his achievements, which, he insists, aren’t really his achievements but those of the employees at Dallas-based Baylor Scott & White Health. But facts are facts, and there are 40,000 people on the payroll now, and that is largely because of Allison. Most recently, in 2013, he led the effort to merge with Temple’s Scott & White. In the 1990s, he built an affiliated physician group that now serves as the bedrock of the brand’s expansive provider base. And his ability to put the right people in the right roles and step to the side are why Baylor has one of the nation’s most aggressive and successful heart transplant programs, why it’s linked up with the Cleveland Clinic and entered into joint ventures with Tenet, why its robust research institute has teamed with Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine. And so on. Maybe Allison doesn’t register those tears for himself but for his people, and that’s fine. He’s a humble man. But the fact remains that it’s his leadership that paved the way.


Dr. Luigi Meneghini

Parkland Health and Hospital System’s Global Diabetes Program

Achievement in Wellness Programs

As Dallas County’s safety net system, Parkland almost always faces uphill climbs. Compared to many private hospitals, the patients are poorer and sicker. In their communities, transportation isn’t always guaranteed, and neither is healthy food. The system treats more than 50,000 patients with diabetes, which is why it was imperative for it to launch a targeted program to address the disease with funds from a federal waiver. Started in 2014, the Global Diabetes Program brings together doctors, dietitians, psychologists, social workers, and financiers to help guide patients through managing their diabetes, overcoming the obstacles often facing Parkland’s population. The program, run by Dr. Luigi Meneghini, has about doubled patient visits year-over-year, established a registry, and introduced adherence-analysis processes into the electronic health record. Wellness can help beat diabetes, but not without an infrastructure.

Finalists: Nicole Pellum, JPS Health Network; Tamara Perry, Children’s Health


Baylor Scott & White Health Sports Therapy & Research at The Star

Outstanding Real Estate Project

Mix the trademark Dallas Cowboys bombast with Baylor Scott & White’s expansion know-how, and you wind up with the Sports Therapy & Research project at The Star. It’s a 300,000-square-foot complex for sports medicine, complete with ambulatory surgery center, diagnostic imaging, a sports performance program, an urgent care center, outpatient rehab, research facilities, and a pharmacy. It’s the first collaboration between an NFL team and a health system, and it’s opening in Frisco, where the city’s high school football teams will be playing their games at the Cowboys’ new headquarters. They’ll be in good company, since the Baylor researchers will be learning more about brain diseases like CTE while looking for ways to avoid sports-related injuries, both head and otherwise.