James May, president and CEO of Mercy Health Partners, Scranton, Pa., wasn't at all intimidated by the thought of sitting down and chatting with President Bush-that is, until a couple of Bush's aides put in their two cents' worth.
"The White House advance team was talking to me before the visit, saying, `Don't worry about a thing, he's very nice, so don't be nervous,' " Mays says. "(An aide) paused for a moment, then added, `Just remember: he is the leader of the Free World.' "
May was the host for Bush's Jan. 16 visit to 265-bed Mercy Hospital of Scranton, where the president got up close and personal with about 10 nurses, doctors and patients for a roundtable discussion on the medical malpractice insurance crisis. May, in office for nine months and the only hospital administrator on hand, says the bull session-which preceded the president's address on the same topic at nearby University of Scranton-has been the highlight so far of his brief tenure at Mercy.
Anyone who thinks Bush isn't one of the most articulate or intellectually agile chief executives in U.S. history can expect an argument from May, who describes Bush as "very well-educated. He knew the (medical malpractice) issue. He had a lot of statistics and facts, which I thought showed he'd been well-briefed."
Not surprising, May says, Bush also can be quite forceful-a personality trait that is becoming more and more apparent to allies and enemies alike: "One of the best things he said was: `When I decide to stand up for something, I stand up tall.' "
May says he wasn't sure why Mercy, located in a city where about 40 physicians threatened to strike in late December, was chosen over other area hospitals as the site of the presidential rendezvous. He wasn't about to question the decision, though. "The Secret Service and the White House called me and asked, `Are you willing to have the president come to the hospital?' We answered fairly quickly."