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VHA cofounder Pat Groner

Hall of Famer Pat Groner dies at 91

GPO founder remembered as an innovator

By Ashok Selvam
Posted: December 17, 2012 - 3:00 pm ET

Pat Groner, a co-founder of the group purchasing organization Voluntary Hospitals of America and the original CEO of a company that would become four-hospital Baptist Health Care Corp., Pensacola, Fla., died Friday of complications from Alzheimer's disease.

Groner, 91, headed the former Baptist Hospital for 33 years and retired in 1983. The Dallas native died at Azalea Trace, a retirement community in Pensacola that opened in 1980 under his direction. Modern Healthcare inducted Groner in 2008 to the magazine's Health Care Hall of Fame.

A leading advocate for not-for-profit hospitals, colleagues called Groner a tireless advocate for localizing solutions that had worked well on the national level.

“He was always looking for something better, some way to do it better,” said J. Craig Honaman, who served as senior VP at Baptist Health Care and worked with Groner in Florida. Honaman, who now runs H&H Consulting, met Groner in 1969 while a resident at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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In 1977, Baptist became the country's third hospital to use helicopters to transport patients. The two other hospitals were in Denver and Houston, communities much larger than Pensacola. “We had to find out what was the right business model to make it work in a medium-sized community,” he recalled.

Groner transformed the not-for-profit industry when he co-founded the company that became Irving, Texas-based VHA. VHA drew not-for-profit hospitals together to drive down the costs of purchased supplies, allowing them to use their numbers to their advantage and to compete with their investor-owned counterparts. Groner co-founded the company with fellow Health Care Hall of Fame member Stanley Nelson, who died in August.

Honaman recalled Groner's eagerness to tackle challenges that set him apart from other administrators.

“His legacy was his thinking of creative solutions to problems that we all encountered in the health arena,” he said. “Just because it hasn't been done before doesn't mean you don't try it.”

Groner served in World War II as a pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps.

He was tapped to run the newly constructed Baptist Hospital shortly after its opening in 1949 when he was just 29.

Honaman said executives such as Groner and Nelson were examples of the greatest generation of healthcare executives. These administrators were embarking on careers at a time before universities had established academic curriculums for executives interested in healthcare. They had to respond to momentous changes over the course of their careers, including the mid-1960s implementation of Medicare and Medicaid.

Groner also served on the board of the American Hospital Association. His brother, Frank Groner, is also a member of Modern Healthcare's Health Care Hall of Fame, after induction in 1988. Frank Groner, who died in 1994, served as president and CEO of Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp.'s flagship hospital in Memphis.

AHA President and CEO Rich Umbdenstock called Groner a national leader for serving on the board of the AHA for two terms and chairing numerous committees and task forces. “He provided the leadership foundation on which Baptist Health Care stands today, a model of patient care quality and patient satisfaction. We are grateful for his many contributions,” Umbdenstock said.

Curt Nonomaque, VHA president and CEO, said, “As one of the founding shareholders for VHA, Pat is recognized as one who provided the initial vision for the alliance and sustained the momentum in those early years. Pat rallied others, and together they represented 30 of the nation's foremost not-for-profit hospitals. Their vision of shared commitment and cooperation remains a cornerstone of the VHA network 35 years later.”

Pat Groner is survived by his wife, Louise; son, Chip Groner; daughter, Jodee Hart; and four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

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