The LAMBS is cooked. Roasted. History. Done in by a failure to diversify its membership and the recognition that exclusive clubs may not serve the interests of hospital executives who are supposed to exemplify diversity in their organizations.
Still, it was fun while it lasted.
The half-century tradition of the Lay Administrators Mutual Benefit Society, or LAMBS, a male-only, "secret" organization of hospital administrators who flocked annually to the American Hospital Association's Washington conference to poke fun at well-known colleagues and themselves, ended last month when the group disbanded at its final meeting.
The organization ultimately voted to slaughter the LAMBS rather than admit women. In 2001, two efforts to admit women for membership failed because older, retired members, known as "gelded" members, outvoted active members. An advisory committee of Exceptional Women Executives (EWEs) failed to catch fire.
But the LAMBS did not baa-aa quietly into the night.
"It was a great last meeting," reported the LAMBS' last leader, retired hospital executive John Casey, whose title, TIGER, stands for The Illustrious Grand Exalted Ram. "It was kind of sentimental and a lot of fun. But everyone recognized that ending it was the right thing to do."
As Modern Healthcare first reported last year (Dec. 24, 2001, p. 36) the club-organized in 1953 as an association of hospital administrators who had been excluded from a physicians-only hospital administrators group-said it would break up at its annual meeting.
"It has become clear to us that most of the active working members simply do not wish to have to withstand the scrutiny and have to explain their membership in an organization which restricts membership on the basis of gender," the LAMBS leadership said in a letter to members last year.
"In this day and age, there were a number of members who quite frankly felt embarrassed and uncomfortable explaining that they belonged to an organization that excluded women," said Casey, the former president of the former American Medical International, a for-profit hospital chain that in 1995 merged into Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Tenet Healthcare Corp. "We quite honestly decided that our three options were to force the issue of including women, which kept missing by narrow vote margins; let the group die ungracefully over time; or do a mercy killing. We opted for the latter and sent the LAMBS out in style."
More than 60 members gathered at the meeting to consume lamb chops, view a video humorously summarizing highlights of past meetings and skewer LAMBS members who are industry luminaries.
Richard Wittrup, a retired adviser to the president of Houston's Methodist Health Care System, said the LAMBS grew from eight founding members in 1953 to nearly 200. Wittrup held the rank of LAMBS Wool Gatherer, or secretary.
"Mostly we're just a bunch of guys who get together and have a fun lunch and make fun of each other," said Wittrup, an unofficial LAMBS historian.
"It was always good for a million laughs, and we'll miss it," he said. "But its best days were behind it. Those who belonged enjoyed it greatly. It was clear that the younger generation was not as interested. I have nothing but good memories about it."