If ever there was a not-for-profit hospital that tested the definition of "charity," it was Houston's Methodist Hospital, which was one of the richest not-for-profits in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Larry Mathis, its chief executive officer, was its chief architect and defender.
During 14 years at the hospital ending in 1997, Mathis oversaw a hospital whose holdings included a four-star restaurant, valet service and 24-hour concierge. He led a $150 million expansion that made Methodist the nation's largest hospital, with 1,527 beds.
"In my view, it is a charitable purpose to provide care to a rich man or a poor man," Mathis said in 1993.
Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox thought differently, charging that the hospital's charitable contributions were too puny. In a suit field in 1990, his office accused Methodist of running a country-club-style hospital for the rich while profiting from its tax exemption.
The case came to a boil amid national concern over the growing number of uninsured Americans.
Methodist ultimately prevailed in court, but the dispute led Texas legislators to pass a law requiring not-for-profit hospitals to provide specific amounts of charity care.