Neal Kocurek, an Austin, Texas, civic leader who helped craft a controversial partnership between St. David's HealthCare System and investor-owned hospital chain HCA, died last week after suffering a stroke.
Kocurek, 67, had been president and chief executive officer of St. David's since 1998. His death came less than a month after a March 4 federal jury verdict allowed St. David's to retain its tax exemption under the six-hospital partnership, ending a six-year legal battle with the IRS (March 15, p. 8).
An electrical engineer who co-founded two successful companies, Kocurek brought entrepreneurial vision and a penchant for private-sector solutions to community causes that included education and regional planning as well as healthcare.
"He relished knotty problems," said Camille Miller, president and CEO of the Texas Institute for Health Policy Research, a subsidiary of the Texas Hospital Association; Kocurek served on the institute's board from 2000 to 2002.
As a member of the St. David's board, Kocurek helped negotiate the 1996 joint venture with HCA, which he believed would preserve the mission of the hospital where he was born, and later died, by instilling business discipline while still maintaining not-for-profit control of governance. When the IRS challenged the partnership on grounds that charitable assets could be used for private benefit, Kocurek was passionate in its defense, educating himself about every aspect of the case and serving as the system's primary witness.
Kocurek was incensed that in the IRS view, money from St. David's foundation could not be used to operate a primary-care clinic because it would reduce indigent-care volume in the partnership's emergency services, a more costly setting for care, Miller said. "To him this was a legal technicality that kept people from making good decisions about using money in the community," she said.
Possessing boundless energy that didn't appear to slow even when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002, Kocurek was a driving force behind numerous initiatives, including an indigent-care collaborative that recommended creation of a Travis County, Texas, public hospital district. A public referendum on the proposal is scheduled for May 15.
On the day he died, Kocurek was scheduled to help kick off the Texas institute's "Shared Vision" project, in which healthcare and business leaders are collaborating to find policy solutions to Texas' high rate of uninsured patients.
Kocurek left the hospital with a succession plan that included installing Carol Clark, a longtime confidante who was also one of the system's lawyers, as his temporary replacement.
Kocurek is survived by his parents, his wife, a sister, three children and his grandchildren.