To Robert Toomey, integrated healthcare delivery wasn't a fad. It was a way of life.
In 1953, as a 36-year-old hospital executive, Toomey joined what was then known as Greenville (S.C.) General Hospital. He spearheaded the formation of Greenville Hospital System, one of the nation's first regional multihospital systems, eventually rising to the position of chief executive officer.
Over the next 25 years, Toomey shaped the system, which had as many as nine hospitals in the mid-1960s and includes three today. He developed a strong belief in integration of hospitals and physicians and in encouraging physicians to take an active role in hospital governance. "Physicians have and always have had an opportunity to take a leading role in healthcare," Toomey said when he was named to Modern Healthcare's Hall of Fame in 1993, "but they have been followers for the most part."
Toomey died last week of complications from pneumonia at 146-bed Allen Bennett Hospital, Greer, S.C., part of the Greenville system he built. He was 85.
"The healthcare field was dad's second family," said his son, Richard, president and CEO of 273-bed Nash Health Care Systems, Rocky Mount, N.C. "He loved the people (who) dedicated their lives to the field and was forever thinking how to improve the delivery of care to the benefit of patients and their families."
Toomey was born March 18, 1916, in Cambridge, Mass. He earned a bachelor of science degree from Harvard University, Cambridge, in 1940 and a master's degree in education from Boston University in 1941. He served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946, and in 1951, he completed a master's degree in science from Columbia University's School of Public Health in New York City.
Toomey next moved to upstate New York to run three hospitals that were forming a system. His two years there were a prelude to his work in Greenville.
The Greenville system Toomey developed looks today like the prototype for an integrated system, combining physician practices, three hospitals, an 88-bed skilled-nursing facility and an inpatient rehabilitation unit.
But Toomey wasn't merely an empire builder. He regularly lunched in the cafeteria at the system's flagship, 781-bed Greenville Memorial Hospital, to get to know his employees. He started a system of "patients' representatives," one on each floor, advocates who would visit with the patients and look out for their interests. He ordered employees in the hospital's complaint department to always begin their responses with an apology.
All those measures flowed from his view of a hospital administrator's responsibility. "Most people in administration felt they were able to benefit people," Toomey said in 1993. "You really get an affection for the community in which you live. Serving the community is part of the reason for you doing your work."
Toomey was well-recognized for his work. He was a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives and twice served as chairman of the South Carolina Hospital Association. He was a trustee of the American Hospital Association in the late 1960s and was director of the AHA's Center for Multihospital Systems and Shared Services Organizations from 1978 to 1979. He won the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1982 from Columbia's School of Public Health.
Toomey left the Greenville system in 1978 but continued working in healthcare in Greenville, launching Toomey Consulting Services. From 1984 to 1987, he added the duties of president and chief operating officer at Med Corp Health Systems, Columbia, S.C., a for-profit subsidiary of the foundation of what was then known as Richland Memorial Hospital, Columbia. Med Corp worked out strategies for the hospital to pursue in outpatient care, such as urgent-care and diagnostic-imaging centers. He worked as president of the healthcare consulting firm nearly to the end of his life, Richard Toomey said.
In addition to his son Richard, Toomey is survived by his wife of 58 years, Laurette, three other children and nine grandchildren.