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 Dec. 14 of complications from Alzheimer's disease.
Groner, 91, headed the former Baptist Hospital for 33 years and retired in 1983. The Marshall, Texas, 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.
Colleagues called Groner a tireless advocate for not-for-profit hospitals 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.
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,” Honaman 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.
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 leaders 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. Frank Groner, who was inducted in 1988 and died in 1994, served as president and CEO of Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp.'s flagship hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
AHA President and CEO Richard 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 Groner 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,” Nonomaque said. “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.