Larry Mathis, a controversial leader in the debate over charity care in Texas hospitals, has decided to step down as the top executive at Methodist Health Care System in Houston.
After 25 years with Methodist, including the past 13 as president and chief executive officer, the 53-year-old Mathis said last week he had always planned to leave when he was "around 55 years old." He will continue as Methodist's top executive until a suc-cessor is named within the next year and consult for the system and other clients after that.
"I'm restructuring my life to get out of the day-to-day grind of being a healthcare system CEO," Mathis said.
During Mathis' tenure, Methodist took on a $150 million expansion in the late 1980s to make Methodist the nation's largest hospital, with 1,527 inpatient beds. After that building binge, some called the giant hospital "Mathodist," while the Wall Street Journal labeled Mathis a healthcare "troglodyte" who was out of step with the industry.
When Methodist signed a letter of intent in 1994 to merge with St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston, Mathis' tenure as Methodist's top executive was expected to come to a close. A new CEO was going to be recruited, but that deal broke down earlier this year.
Methodist's board Chairman John Bookout said trustees have been aware of Mathis' career plan for some time. "With Methodist's movement toward an integrated finance and delivery system, we discussed the need for a CEO who would guide the organization into the next century," Bookout said. "Because of that need, we decided to move now on the challenge of finding a successor."
Methodist ranked atop the most cash-rich not-for-profit hospitals in the country in 1994, posting $788.4 million in cash and cash equivalents, according to an analysis last year by HCIA, a Baltimore-based healthcare information company (Oct. 23, 1995, p. 40). The next closest hospital had $426.6 million in cash and cash equivalents.
Mathis plans to continue to be active in the healthcare industry locally and nationally. But he also wants time to travel and enjoy life, he said. He's currently chairman-elect of the American College of Healthcare Executives and served as board chairman of the American Hospital Association in 1993.
Mathis is best known in Texas for his unwavering stance in a lawsuit filed in 1991 by the state attorney general. The suit contended the not-for-profit hospital wasn't providing enough charity care to justify its tax-exempt status.
"I've lived my life and made mistakes, but if I had to do it all again I would," Mathis said. "I just could've hoped for some better outcomes."
Methodist won the suit, but the dispute prompted the Texas Legislature to pass a new law requiring not-for-profit hospitals to provide specific levels of charity care.
Mathis said the legislation "led to a good outcome. Texas is now far ahead of other states."