Born in 1911, T. Stewart Hamilton, M.D., grew up amid hospital administration.
His father, also a physician, headed Harper Hospital in Detroit for most of his life. T. Stewart Hamilton earned his medical degree from Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit in 1939 and completed his internship and residency at Harper Hospital.
Hamilton married Amy Washburn, whose father was the head of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Hamilton later became assistant director at Massachusetts General and then director of Newton (Mass.)-Wellesley Hospital.
But Hamilton's success was based on more than just his family heritage. His integrity, insight and popularity among colleagues helped him carve a niche for himself at Hartford Hospital, where he served as executive director and president for more than 20 years.
In addition to his hospital duties, Hamilton played important roles at the state and national levels. He served as president of the Massachusetts Hospital Association, the Connecticut Hospital Association and the American Hospital Association, and as commissioner and vice chairman of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals. He received distinguished service awards from various organizations as well as gold medal awards from the American College of Hospital Administrators in 1971 and from the New England Hospital Assembly in 1975.
The great communicator. Hamilton organized the first staff retreat at Hartford Hospital in 1971 to facilitate communication between physicians, managers and trustees.
"I started the workshop to try and bring the heart of the hospital board and the staff closer together," Hamilton says. "I was amazed that they practically never communicated with one another except in writing.
"That all changed in the 22 years, I hope for the better," he adds. "They found they all had similar goals, all working to make that institution its best and have that institution keep its fine reputation."
Now known as Hamilton workshops, the retreats have continued and "enabled Hartford Hospital to plan and implement programs that would have been impossible otherwise," says John Springer, chairman of MedSpan, an HMO based in Hartford, Conn.
Springer was associate executive director at Hartford and worked with Hamilton, whom Springer succeeded as president and director in 1976.
With staff collaboration, in 1979 the hospital developed ConnectiCare, a hospital- and physician-led HMO, which now has 180,000 enrollees. And in 1980, the hospital launched CHS Insurance Limited, a malpractice insurance group that provides a single risk pool for Hartford Hospital and 400 private practicing physicians.
"I came to Hartford Hospital because I wanted a more direct look at a metropolitan hospital setup and I wanted the opportunity to work with Stewart Hamilton, both of which would enhance my career opportunities," Springer says. "In my view, he was the dean or one of the deans of hospital administration. He was at the peak of his career. He demonstrated outstanding integrity, and he had the ability to develop loyalty among his colleagues and medical staff."
Trial by fire. In 1961 a fire started in a trash chute at Hartford and killed 16 people. Instead of trying to ignore what happened, Hamilton invited safety inspectors and other hospital administrators to the hospital so they could learn from Hartford's tragedy and brainstorm ways to avoid similar incidents.
Because Hamilton turned the fire into a learning experience, Hartford became a leader in fire safety and regained public trust. In addition, trash chutes were eliminated from all U.S. hospitals.
Among Hamilton's greatest achievements was testifying before Congress on behalf of the AHA to support the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s. He then went back to local organizations to explain the government programs.
"In 1966, the first year of Medicare, there were all kinds of fears about what was going to happen when the elderly began to get these cards," says Dennis May, president of the Connecticut Hospital Association. May was director of finance at the CHA in 1966, when Hamilton was president there. "Stewart had a very calming but firm hand through all that. He and I worked very closely together with respect to Medicare finances and the billing process."
Continuing to help. After Hamilton retired and left Hartford in 1976, he continued influencing hospital administration by helping to educate others. In 1977, Hamilton became an honorary professor and guest lecturer at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in Farmington.
Hamilton was a guest professor in the community medicine and healthcare department and worked on medical ethics courses with the dean of the medical school.
"He was sort of an advisory figure," says James Walker, M.D., professor emeritus of medicine at the university's geriatrics center and past chairman of the community medicine and healthcare department. "Hamilton was greatly respected by students at all levels. His very demeanor engendered respect."