If Caribou is the Trilateral Commission of healthcare, then L.A.M.B.S. is the Skull & Bones.
L.A.M.B.S. is a tongue-in-cheek organization that doesn't take itself seriously and avoids addressing the business of healthcare. Its acronym stands for Lay Administrators Mutual Benefit Society.
L.A.M.B.S., whose stationery features a drawing of lambs chasing old rams, was founded in 1953 by nonphysician hospital chief executive officers who were miffed at being excluded from a physician hospital administrators organization, the Medical Superintendents Club.
Reminiscent of the secret Yale Skulls & Bones Society, L.A.M.B.S. is led by "The Illustrious Grand Exalted Ram," or Tiger, who is elected through a process so secret that even the Tiger doesn't understand it.
Still a bastion of all-male membership, new L.A.M.B.S. members must sing the "Whiffenpoof Song" and wear headbands with antlers at the annual luncheon--where the menu always includes lamb chops. L.A.M.B.S. has 193 members, including the regular, or active members, and retiree, or gelded members.
The annual luncheon is held during the American Hospital Association's conference, where L.A.M.B.S. elects a new Tiger; a "Wool Gatherer," or secretary; and a "Good Shepherd," whose sole function is to keep track of which members have passed away.
Regular member dues are $50, which include the annual lunch. Unlike Caribou, whose members must leave once they resign their association presidency, L.A.M.B.S. members can retain their memberships after leaving their positions, although they are designated gelded retirees.
L.A.M.B.S. members seem a little embarrassed to even be considered in the same category as Caribou, which has an atmosphere that seems more like that of the much-maligned Trilateral Commission, whose activities are the subject of conspiracy theories.
Richard Wittrup, 73, senior adviser to the president of Houston's Methodist Health Care System and former CEO of health systems in Massachusetts and Kentucky, says L.A.M.B.S. has grown since eight hospital executives founded it 47 years ago.
"Mostly we're just a bunch of guys who get together and have a fun lunch and make fun of each other," Wittrup says. "Each year we give out our Bullthrower Award, which goes to the guy who's done the most for himself and the least for the profession. (He gets) a real roast and a trophy with a bull on it."
New members are nominated by letter, and nominees must explain how other prospective members have served themselves more than they've benefited healthcare, Wittrup says.
"When candidates are introduced everyone hisses and boos and baas, and tells them they can't be members," Wittrup says. "Then they vote them in anyway. We're not really that selective." Wittrup was invited to join in 1976 while serving as president of Affiliated Hospital Center in Boston, now Brigham and Women's Hospital.
"I don't know if you'd call us an elite organization, but we've certainly got some of the most prestigious and best-known people in the industry. We're pretty harmless, though. You have to have a good sense of humor. And once you struggle your way through the (`Whiffenpoof) Song,' you're in."
John Russell, a member of both groups, says the only business at a L.A.M.B.S. meeting, besides the award and announcing the officers, is the building committee report, a kind of running joke. Each year the group mulls over where it should build its fictional headquarters, a report that is promptly ignored until the following year.
"The only way to get out of the L.A.M.B.S. is to die," says Gil Gilbertson, Wool Gatherer and president emeritus of St. Luke's Regional Medical Center in Boise, Idaho.
Charles Foster, president and CEO of West Georgia Health System in LaGrange, is this year's Tiger for L.A.M.B.S.
"If you try to get serious, they'll baa you down," Foster says. "We do nothing but have fun. It's better medicine than spending two hours in any psychiatrist's office."