Jack Bovender, a longtime HCA executive who has been the for-profit hospital chain's chief executive officer since 2001, isn't sure why he is being singled out for honors now, but he thinks it may have to do with helicopters. It was Bovender who authorized a heroic mission to rescue patients and staff from Tulane University Hospital in New Orleans, an HCA affiliate, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The American College of Healthcare Executives awarded Bovender, 61, a 2007 Gold Medal Award for going outside his own organization to improve healthcare and the community, according to its announcement.
Hospital executives in New Orleans and leaders at HCA headquarters in Nashville, including Bovender, called on everyone from professional helicopter pilots in Chicago to amateur, or HAM, radio operators in Florida to pull off the rescue in August 2005.
Bovender describes an operation that involved 24 helicopters and saved 254 patients and about 1,400 staff and family members. Once Tulane Hospital was completely evacuated, and the helicopters helped rescue the few remaining staff at nearby Charity Hospital, a public hospital not affiliated with HCA.
The helicopters were hovering two and three deep, waiting to land atop Tulane's parking garage, with most traditional communications knocked out. A team of volunteer HAM radio operators from Tallahassee, Fla., were transported to the hospital's roof to coordinate the pilots.
“It was kind of an interesting logistical endeavor,” Bovender says.
The materials management experts at HCA shifted their attention away from day-to-day hospital system needs. They quickly formed a plan to stock the choppers with food, medicine, linens and other supplies. The helicopters were then emptied, making room for one or two patients to board.
“It was a heroic effort,” he says.
Bovender humbly describes himself as a cheerleader and spectator during the rescue, saying he gave the workers freedom to do what needed to be done without worrying about purchase orders.
Bovender began his work in healthcare in 1969 as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (Va).
He says a turning point in his career was accepting his first position as a CEO at an HCA facility in 1985, when the company—then known as Hospital Corporation of America—“was growing quickly and willing to take chances on younger people and promote them faster,” he says.
In the mid-'80s, when he was just 32 or 33 years old, Bovender says, he was asked to oversee completion of a new hospital near Clearwater, Fla., and to open the hospital as its CEO.
Bovender continued to climb the ranks at HCA, and was named chief operating officer in 1992. He retired when HCA merged with Columbia in 1994, but came out of retirement in 1997 to accept the positions of president and COO of the company, which reverted back to the HCA name. In 2001, he was named president and CEO, and a year later was also named chairman.