Fred Brown's heralded return to healthcare was unexpectedly cut short earlier this month by the interminable wait for a kidney for his stepdaughter, Katie Margolis, 22.
Brown stepped down as president and CEO at two-hospital Northern Arizona Healthcare in Flagstaff, citing those intensely personal reasons. Margolis is one of about 82,000 people in the country in need of kidney transplants, Brown says. She has been on a waiting list for her third kidney transplant since January 2003, when the kidney donated 12 years earlier by her mother, Shirley, shut down. The first kidney donated by her father was rejected. Brown says 15 possible donors have stepped forward in the past 18 months, but none has been a suitable match.
While Brown was working in Flagstaff, Margolis and her mother were residing in Scottsdale, Ariz., near the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix where Margolis receives treatment. When Brown accepted the position in Flagstaff last August, the family expected she would have located a donor and had the transplant by now, he says.
"It was too much of a separation," Brown says. "It was just too much to handle from a family standpoint. I wasn't there during this time of crisis and I felt bad about it. The (Northern Arizona) board was very gracious about it. They understood and chose an excellent person to step in."
Barely skipping a beat, Northern Arizona Healthcare replaced Brown with James Puffenberger as its president and CEO. Puffenberger, 54, moved up from executive vice president and CFO.
He had been in the No. 2 spot since arriving at Northern Arizona in 1999 from Mercy General Health Partners in Muskegon, Mich., and was the second-place finisher in the five-month national search that brought Brown out of retirement to lead the system, says John Jacobson, a system spokesman.
The Brown family plans to do a lot of outreach, Fred Brown says, explaining "what it's like to be 22, waiting for a kidney when you can't go to school, and no one will hire you and you are on dialysis three times a week."
Brown, 63, was the 1999 chairman of the American Hospital Association and had been president and CEO of BJC Healthcare in St. Louis from 1993 to 1998.
Brown says he plans to continue to serve as vice chairman of the board of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. He is in line to be its next chairman.