Commentary: The current interim president of UNTHSC, Dr. Michael Williams, seems to have impressed the local leaders and media of Fort Worth in less than 3 months in the job. After having defended the leadership of the former president of UNTHSC, Scott Ransom, D.O., the local media is realizing that Dr. Williams may be a better choice for UNTHSC and the push of a second medical (allopathic) school at UNTHSC campus and takes a quick swipe at the former president Ransom.
Dr. Williams is a lifetime learner by having a few degrees under his belt or after his name, Dr. Williams is the product of TCOM and had followed almost the same path like Dr. Ransom by having earned the master degrees in Healthcare Management and Business Administration. He also added a MD degree from Ross University.
Dr. Williams is known for his honesty and integrity, which have impressed the local political leaders and the osteopathic leaders.
It is very interesting that the local media has fallen for the new “guy” by willing to ignore the legal process of a national search for the president. Dr. Williams is most likely to become the official president of UNTHSC as his former board members will be the ones to make the ultimate decision of selecting the next president. His seat on the Board of Regents would not have been filled by Governor Perry within days of his resignation from the Board to assume the interim presidency of UNTHSC.
As UNTHSC/TCOM is the crown jewel of the osteopathic profession and the collegiality between MDs and DOs is genuinely entrenched, Dr. Williams is in a very good position to make changes and contributions in the osteopathic profession. UNTHSC/TCOM does not need to go through the turmoil of the past 5 years with the push for an MD program. UNTHSC/TCOM can grow and branch out in the great state of Texas in order to serve Texans.
Right new guy for the UNT Health Science Center
If a good thing has come out of the recent brouhaha over the firing of Scott Ransom from his job as president of the University of Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, it’s that the UNT Board of Regents discovered Dr. Michael Williams and named him interim president. Actually, there’s another good thing — the idea of combining the Denton and Fort Worth institutions seems to be dead, at least for now.
Part of the knock on Ransom was that he was angling behind the scenes for the top job if the schools were combined. And with the news this past week that UNT President Lane Rawlins will retire in 2014, Ransom’s advancement might have been a possibility if he had read the situation a little better.
I didn’t know Williams before we sat down for breakfast recently with editorial page director Mike Norman and Tim Doke, UNTHSC senior vice president of community engagement. Several people in the Fort Worth leadership community have told me that, although they were sorry to see Ransom shown the door, those who had met Williams came away impressed.
He seems to be almost perfect. He’s from Fort Worth, and he’s a Health Science Center alum, having earned his doctor of osteopathy degree in 1981. He’s an M.D., too; has advanced degrees in management from both Duke and Harvard and in his first administrative job turned around the once-troubled hospital in Fredericksburg.
I guess the only knock against him would be that he has no track record as an educator, although his collection of degrees shows he’s a constant learner. Wonder why he never found time to get a law degree or Ph.D. What a slacker!
He got to be chief executive of the Fredericksburg hospital in a similar way to his situation now — board members asked him to be interim president while they did a search, then found he was the right person for the permanent job.
He helped make Fredericksburg a top performer by adopting what seems to be a no-brainer approach that some healthcare institutions haven’t grasped: Let’s make it all about the patients.
After all, Williams says, a hospital is really just a hotel for sick people. Let’s make the experience as stress-free as possible.
He instituted a “5-10 rule.” Employees who come within 10 feet of a customer must look them in the eye if they cross paths, and if they’re within 5 feet, they must speak.
Wouldn’t we all be better off if we adopted that friendly philosophy in our daily lives?
He also brought in people from Ritz-Carlton and Southwest Airlines to provide ideas on how to improve customer service and create a better company culture.
If he’s picked to lead UNTHSC, he says, his goal is to train physicians who will be patient-oriented. I mean both osteopaths and M.D.s. Getting an M.D. program for the school is still a priority for the regents. There aren’t many schools in the country that offer that double-play.
We need our local legislative heavyweights — Sen. Jane Nelson and Rep. Charlie Geren — to get that horse into the barn, but with nothing filed by Friday’s deadline for non-emergency bills, it looks like it will be delayed another two years.
But there’s a real question about whether the D.O. community will ever accept an M.D. program. With feet already in both worlds, Williams could execute a tricky detente.
Expectations are that the regents will pick a new president before the end of May. Why lose momentum by picking someone who would have to do a lot of learning on the job when the right person is already here?
Native son comes home to run Health Science Center
Dr. Michael Williams has made it perfectly clear that he would like to make the interim position he is holding permanent.
Williams was introduced as interim president of the University of North Texas Health Science Center in December, minutes after the UNT System Board of Regents fired Dr. Scott Ransom.
“I will be a candidate in the search,” Williams said in a recent interview. “I’ve already made them [regents] aware of that.”
Williams was a regent until he stepped down Dec. 20, the day before he was named interim president.
Ransom’s removal stirred concerns among Health Science Center supporters that a strong advocate for the Fort Worth institution had been lost. Members of the UNT Health Science Center Foundation Board criticized the firing and wondered whether it would hurt chances of bringing an M.D. program to Fort Worth.
Williams, a Fort Worth native, understands that he must mend fences.
“My job will be to come in and build trust,” said Williams, who has been meeting with foundation board members to address their concerns. “This institution is extremely important to Fort Worth, and Fort Worth is extremely important to this institution.”
Michele Reynolds, a member of the foundation board, said she left a meeting with Williams believing that there is a potential for something positive.
She told Williams: “I have a real problem: I really don’t want to like you, but my gut tells me otherwise.”
Regents are expected to evaluate Williams’ performance and conduct a national search before naming the next president. No timetable has been unveiled.
UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson said he plans to convene a “high-level” Fort Worth community task force to meet regularly with Williams and the regents to assess the progress and direction of the Health Science Center. Members of the group are expected to be announced this month.
M.D. program a priority
Williams, who is earning an annual salary of $647,295, said his focus is on gaining continued support for an M.D. program, obtaining state funding for the College of Pharmacy and pushing for $66 million to help pay for a 150,000-square-foot research building.
The M.D. program is No. 1 on the list.
The health science center boasts the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, a D.O. program, and some members of that community have resisted adding the M.D. program.
Jackson said that there has been a “lack of unity” and that UNT officials need to attract more support from the osteopathic community.
“Any change opens new opportunity,” the chancellor said of Williams’ appointment.
Sam Tessen, executive director of the Texas Osteopathic Medical Association in Austin, said Williams “has made a persistent effort to reach out to our leaders,” and has attended a meeting and answered questions from association members.
Tesson said the conversation was straightforward and touched on the M.D. program and other issues related to TCOM.
“We disagree with him on the M.D. issue,” Tesson said.
Williams said part of his message to the osteopathic community is that there is a synergy to having both M.D. and D.O. programs at the same institution. He said the effort is not “zero sum.”
“We already have the infrastructure here,” he said.
Furthermore, creating an M.D. program would help address a statewide demand.
“Texas is in need of more doctors,” Williams said.
Although the M.D. program continues to have community support in Fort Worth, it has not gained traction in Austin. A law that says the Health Science Center cannot award M.D. degrees would have to be changed, and legislation would have to be passed to create such a program and its funding.
No legislation has been filed.
Lobbyist Gib Lewis, a former Texas House speaker who works on behalf of osteopaths, said creating an M.D. program at the Health Science Center “is not making any movement at all.”
Lewis said he has talked to Williams in passing.
“He knows where I stand, and have stood from the very beginning,” Lewis said.
‘Character and integrity’
Williams holds a master’s degree in healthcare management from Harvard University and previously worked as chief executive of the Hill Country Medical Center in Fredericksburg.
When he took over the hospital in 2008, it was dealing with a negative net operating income and decreased morale, according to reports.
But over time, he helped reposition the facility so it could remain a community-owned nonprofit.
In the September 2011 issue of the trade publication Becker’s Hospital Review, a headline read: “Because Good Isn’t Good Enough: How Dr. Michael Williams Turned Around Hill Country Memorial Hospital.”
The hospital was named one of the nation’s top 100 hospitals by Thompson Reuters, a provider of information and solutions on healthcare.
Before taking the permanent job as chief executive, Williams was interim CEO and served on the board of trustees. After being asked to apply for the job three times, Williams acquiesced to trustees and put his name in the running, said Monty Mohon, chief of innovation and brand officer for the hospital.
“He is very deliberate. He really does put patient safety and patient quality at the top of his list,” Mohon said, adding that Williams had a vision and an understanding of changes taking place in the hospital industry.
“He’s very quiet, but he is a strong man of character and integrity,” Mohon said.
Williams was also involved in the community and was a vice president on the Fredericksburg school board.
Excited to be home
When people ask about his background, Williams quickly points out that he was born at Harris Methodist in Fort Worth and graduated from Richland High School in 1972. His mother graduated from North Side High School, and his father graduated from Birdville High School, which became Haltom High School.
Williams’ grandparents on his mother’s side owned a cabinet shop in north Fort Worth, and Williams worked there while attending college.
“I spent a lot of time in different parts of Fort Worth,” he said.
Williams attended what is now Tarrant County College and later transferred to Texas Wesleyan University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He earned a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree from TCOM.
He also has an M.D. from Ross University, a Caribbean medical school founded in 1978.
Williams said he became an M.D. after he experienced prejudice in the medical community because he had an osteopathic degree. He was once told: “There’s no need for you to apply here. I don’t know how to measure your education as a D.O. against that of an M.D.”
That experience proved discouraging, but Williams said he learned that the best way to fight was by attacking the stereotype.
“Prejudice is based on the ignorance of someone else,” he said.
Williams said he is proud of the work under way at the Health Science Center and wants to be part of developing it further. It was ranked No. 35 in primary-care education on U.S. News & World Report’s 2012 list of the Top 50 Medical Schools.
“Anything worth building takes effort and time,” he said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to come back home.”
Michael Williams, MD, DO, was on a December vacation in Santa Fe, a trip that his two grown daughters said they wanted as their only Christmas gift.
Then he got a telephone call: We need you in Fort Worth in two days; however, we cannot offer you a job yet. The chief executive officer of Hill Country Memorial Hospital and University of North Texas regent had recused himself from discussions about University of North Texas Health Science Center President Scott Ransom in case he was needed. The board was about to pull the trigger on Ransom’s administration.
Williams had an idea of what was happening. Several times during his 15 months as a regent, he was asked by UNT officials whether if he would ever consider a career change. He said he would, but nothing was ever defined.
He said he and his wife prayed about the situation, and they decided to go to Fort Worth. As he was driving through Amarillo, Williams called Gov. Rick Perry’s office to resign as a regent to be eligible to become interim president.
The Board of Regents fired Ransom Dec. 21, accusing him of fomenting “internal discord” in opposition to a possible merger of the Fort Worth center and the main university campus in Denton.
The Fort Worth native and UNTHSC graduate said he would take the interim position under two conditions. First, he wanted no guarantees that he would be the permanent president. He wanted to earn the position. Second, he did not want to be handcuffed as an interim leader. He wanted to be able to make the changes as he saw fit. He said there is no firm timetable on hiring a permanent president but he said it likely would occur before the end of the current legislative session in May or June.
“I found out I got the job about 30 minutes before the public did,” Williams quipped.
He resigned his position at the Fredericksburg hospital on Christmas Eve.
Williams has been spending a significant amount of time meeting with Fort Worth community leaders and UNTHSC faculty, staff and students. Ransom’s swift and unexpected departure was unsettling to many.
Williams said, “Anytime there is a major leadership change, people don’t understand that there are two sides to the story. All they get are accounts in media outlets and hearsay. I make it clear that I can’t talk (about Ransom) or his situation because I was didn’t know all the facts because of my recusal.”
He said he has been well received, he said, because he has attempted to be direct, open and honest.
Williams said he does not anticipate any “radical changes” from the university’s current direction. He praises the school’s aging and Alzheimer’s programs, its DNA lab and applied genetics research, and its medical education. He said he wants to build on the school’s strengths.
He is looking forward to the new pharmacy school, which is scheduled to begin in August. He said he is “big believer” in team-based patient care, which he said he employed extensively at Hill Country Memorial.
Williams said he plans to bring business sensibilities to the position. In addition to his medical degrees, he earned a master’s degree in business administration from Duke University and a master’s degree in healthcare management from Harvard University.
“Moody’s recently downgraded education as an industry, primarily because it lacks a business approach to things. It is no longer the world education has traditionally lived in. There are many parallels to (changes in) healthcare,” he said.
Ironically, Williams became a hospital CEO in much the same way he earned his current position. He had a private anesthesiology practice in Fredericksburg and was a physician board member at Hill Country Memorial Hospital. The hospital CEO had resigned and the interim candidate did not work out. He was asked to take the position. He did so, but initially was not interested in the permanent position. After three months, he agreed to become a candidate and won the post over five other candidates.
Williams said, “I didn’t know how to run a hospital, but I knew how to run a business.”
He hired executives from outside healthcare and used Toyota lean manufacturing techniques to improve efficiency. He ran the hospital for five years. It was among the Truven Health 100 Top U.S. Hospitals list released Monday, and has earned national recognition for patient satisfaction.
“From a hospital perspective, it is important how you treat people. It’s not about trite mottos and mission statements,” he said.
Steve Jacob is editor of D Healthcare Daily and author of the new book Health Care in 2020: Where Uncertain Reform, Bad Habits, Too Few Doctors and Skyrocketing Costs Are Taking Us.