If there’s a father of present-day Parkland Hospital, hands-down it’s Ralph Burton Rogers. Known as a man of innovation and renovation, Rogers built Texas Industries, rescued the Dallas Symphony, saved public television from the ravages of Richard Nixon, and what’s more, he even imported Jean Claude Prévot to Dallas to prepare a proper lunch for TXI executives.
It was at a number of those luncheons, long after Jean Claude had departed TXI to start his own restaurant, that Ralph Rogers laid the groundwork for the overhaul of Parkland Hospital. This was 1979. Garry Weber had been elected county judge the previous fall with a specific mandate from his business supporters to do something about Parkland. For years, the hospital had been languishing under the hostile leadership of Jack Price, an executive director whose primary goal was that of a cat on a hot tin roof-to stay on just as long as he could.
Price managed by turmoil, maintaining at all times an atmosphere of low-grade rage. There were unholy wars over computers, since Price could count on computers to generate anxiety among his patrons at Commissioners’ Court, where mathematical objectivity has more than once been tinged by the political persuasion of the programmer. Southwestern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center, whose doctors tended Parkland’s patients, was seen as an archenemy to be held at bay in distant trenches across an imaginary Maginot line. Let those doctors near the budget, Price repeatedly warned the commissioners, and all hell will break loose.
All hell did break loose. Almost every day. Open controversy was commonplace. Tom Shires, Parkland’s chief of surgery, left in disgust, taking most of the surgery faculty with him to Seattle. Journalistic careers were boosted from reporting every flap at Park-land. Jack Price’s PR people wouldn’t permit press in the emergency room, where some favorable coverage might well have been generated.
The city fathers had had enough. They knew what they were doing when they advised Judge Weber to send for Ralph Rogers to chair the hospital’s board of managers.Rogers lost no time sizing up the situa-tion. He bombarded Price with questions. How did the hospital handle accounts receivable? Accounts payable? Were pa-tient records accurate and absolutely up-to-date? The computers didn’t have the answers to satisfy Rogers. Price was about to pay for that.Then began the luncheons in TXI’s ex-ecutive dining room. Rogers summoned, among several others, Dr. Al Roberts, associate dean of clinical affairs at the medical school. Price had to go, Rogers informed Roberts. But, Rogers continued, he was worried about flak from Commissioner Roy Orr, a supporter of Price in the past. Could Roberts give some thought to how that might be handled? Roberts could. Hunkered down in the trenches, he had been preparing this scenario for a long time. Rogers’ plan was falling into place. This is a man who leaves nothing to chance.
But then the worst happened. Ralph Rogers suffered a massive heart attack. He was taken to Parkland Hospital, where quadruple bypass surgery was performed a few days later. It looked very bad for Ralph, but it turned out to be disastrous for Jack Price.
Ralph Rogers is fond of saying that the farm is gladdened by the footprints of the farmer. (He is a farmer of sorts himself; see more about that on this month’s “Insights” page.) As he slowly recuperated, Rogers gained strength by walking around the hospital, asking questions and making endless mental notes. Unhappily for Jack Price, it was a long, complicated convalescence. Rogers had a lot of time to observe Parkland in action.
Once Rogers was dismissed from the hospital, he set about implementing his original plan. Price had to go. There was support on the hospital board of managers from Kay Bailey Hutchison, Stan Scott and Forrest Smith, all of whom had been appointed by Commissioners Court along with Ralph Rogers. Some believed that all four had been named with tacit instructions to get rid of Price.
Board Vice Chairman Doris Holden op-posed the move, and so did the other holdover members, Lee Herring and Dr. James Sweatt. They felt that Rogers was being highhanded.
As the critical meeting day approached, Rogers’ family grew increasingly alarmed about his attending. Might he not become severely upset amid the tension and discord, causing another heart attack? Rogers was determined to be there. His doctors said okay. They would be there, too, and could keep an eye on him.
The vote was taken. Price was out. He eventually moved to Pompano Beach, Florida, and became executive director of Cypress Community Hospital. Dr. Charles Mullins, heart specialist at the medical school, was named to run Park-land.
Roy Orr made a lot of noise, and Commissioner Jim Jackson supported Doris Holden’s position that action had been taken too abruptly, but the fallout ended there. Before the year was out, Ralph Rogers had led Parkland in the passage of an $80 million bond election, the largest in its history. A major expansion of the hospital began, and so did an era of optimism at Parkland.
Stanley Scott, senior partner with Arthur Young, succeeded Rogers as chairman of the board of managers; the commissioners calmed down and even Roy Orr says that things are better now. The press, perhaps without realizing it, has instituted a policy of benign neglect, and there’s agreement on all sides that current chief executive officer Dr. Ron Anderson is a bright and innovative leader.
The new day began when Garry Weber sent for Ralph B. Rogers, the brightest innovator and renovator of them all.