In 1994, when the American Hospital Association needed someone to make peace between the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and hospitals angry about the accrediting group's operations and policies, it hired Jonathan Lord, M.D., part-time as its JCAHO liaison.
In 1995, when the AHA needed someone to better coordinate its policy agenda with those of other national healthcare groups, including the American Medical Association, it made Lord its full-time senior adviser for clinical affairs.
In 1997, when the AHA needed someone to run its Chicago office after the resignation of Christine McEntee, it made Lord executive vice president and chief operating officer.
Later that year, when the AHA needed someone to run its for-profit holding company, AHA Services, after Paul Boyke resigned as president, it assigned those duties to Lord.
Peacemaker. Mediator. Manager. Businessman. Presidential ally.
For much of his professional career, Lord, 43, was based in Maryland. In fact, he knew AHA President Richard Davidson during Davidson's 22-year stint as president of the Maryland Hospital Association. Davidson became AHA president in 1991.
Before joining the AHA and scurrying up its corporate ladder, Lord most recently had been executive vice president at Anne Arundel Health System in Annapolis, Md., from 1994 to 1995.
The AHA's golden boy is a self-described type-A personality who is determined to use technology to push the AHA into the future.
"I'm driven by and fascinated by technology," said Lord, who has his colleagues carrying laptops and holding meetings via videoconference.
"Jack is a leader who just happens to have a medical background, rather than a physician who attempted a midlife change to become an organizational leader," said Ben Latimer, vice chairman of Premier hospital alliance. Latimer worked with Lord at SunHealth Alliance, which merged with American Healthcare Systems and Premier Health Alliance in January 1996 to form San Diego-based Premier.
From 1992 to 1994, Lord was senior vice president of medical affairs for SunHealth.
Since he has been at the AHA, Lord has focused attention on improving relationships between hospitals and physicians.
"If we don't come together, we all have some problems," Lord said of healthcare providers. "We can't stand alone. Our No. 1 challenge is the public's confidence in the healthcare system."
The AHA wouldn't disclose Lord's 1997 salary, which would cover his promotion to COO. In 1996 Lord earned $337,627. He also had a $9,744 contribution to his pension plan and an $11,711 expense account, according to the AHA's 1996 Form 990, which it filed with the Internal Revenue Service last September.
Since Lord is in Chicago so often, the AHA pays to rent an apartment for him. The association wouldn't disclose its location.
During his meteoric rise at the AHA, Lord's fascination with technology has left an imprint on the association's senior management structure.
"He encouraged us all to get laptops so we could communicate from anywhere at any time," said Richard Wade, the AHA's senior vice president for communications. "When I have 40 e-mails to answer when I start my day, I have Jack to thank for that."
For those executives who didn't have laptop computers, Lord passed them out. Senior managers already had cell phones and pagers.
"I didn't have (a laptop) before, but I'm getting used to it," said Fredric Entin, AHA senior vice president and general counsel. "Our communications have probably increased three- or four-fold between management ever since."
Entin said the increased technology actually is creating more flexibility for him and other managers.
"He's trying to create a virtual organization by allowing people to have some more choices," Entin said. "If you want or need to be home for some reason, we ought to have the ability to have that choice."
Lord said technology will be a trademark of the AHA's future operations under his leadership. He is serving as the AHA's representative on the board of the not-for-profit Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making, joining such luminaries as former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, M.D., and famed health services researcher John Wennberg, M.D., of Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, N.H. Wennberg is the foundation's founder.
The AHA last fall signed a $2.4 million endorsement deal with the foundation's for-profit subsidiary, Fairview Medical Services Corp., which is using the AHA's name to sell its healthcare data products (Sept. 15, 1997, p. 2).
With the AHA's increasing power shift to Washington, videoconferencing between Washington and Chicago has become routine for staff meetings and other management discussions.
But Lord is viewed by some AHA insiders as a stern taskmaster who likes a clean desktop and a pressed suit.
Insiders say morale has slipped somewhat in the Chicago office because the work force at its once-burgeoning headquarters has been slashed by more than half since Davidson took over.
Lord acknowledged the changes have an impact on the staff. But he said the AHA isn't any different from other businesses.
"We are changing, but I don't think we are any different from other businesses trying to stay competitive in the '90s," Lord said.
Despite the downsizing, Lord says the association doesn't plan to eliminate the Chicago operation.
"Our presence in Chicago is critical," Lord said. "We just need to look at ways to manage better."
Lord echoed previous comments by Davidson when talking about the increasing Washington staff and the declining work force in Chicago. He said the AHA is answering its constituency, which wants more advocacy in Washington. "There have been competitive pressures on the association."
Lord continues to live in Maryland. However, he spends two days a week in the Chicago office, two days in Washington and one day on the road meeting with AHA members.
"All of my professional life I've been on the road quite a bit," Lord said. "I love it. I have to have that pace and change in environment."
With the constant communication between Washington and Chicago, there's no need for a daily manager in Chicago. "There isn't a person in charge in Chicago because we have a single COO and are a single organization," said Entin, who has been with the AHA in Chicago for eight years.
In a short time, Lord has made his presence felt in Chicago. Not long after he became COO, he instituted a dress code in the Chicago office.
He said the dress code is more about keeping staffers in Washington and Chicago on the same page. Business attire has been the norm in Washington, Lord said. "In the summer, we may have a casual office from time to time when Congress is not in session," Lord said.
"We're trying to have a single culture-not I'm part of Chicago or Washington, but I'm with the AHA," Lord said.
Despite his increasingly expanding duties, Lord said he doesn't plan to succeed the 61-year-old Davidson when he retires. He was coy about his aspirations for the future. "I see myself day to day," Lord said.