Healthcare leaders in Louisville, Ky., sometimes called Wade Mountz by the affectionate moniker Mr. Norton, and he was among a small number of leaders nationally who could have been called Mr. Voluntary Hospitals of America as well.
As the top executive of Norton Healthcares predecessor organizations for 30 years ending in 1988, Mountz led the organizations steady growth. He began by moving the flagship Norton Hospital downtown near the University of Louisville to establish stronger connections with its medical school and medical center.
When I came here, it was just a good stand-alone community hospital, loosely affiliated with the Episcopal Church, recalls Mountz, 83, president emeritus of Norton Healthcare. We began to realize that we needed, probably, to get out (of the facility then being used). We moved downtown, we tightened our relationship with the university, and it changed the whole structure.
Mountz led the merger of Norton with the then-struggling Childrens Hospital in 1969, creating a new facility that housed both hospitals within the medical center. The two facilities handled patient care, medical staff and clinical services separately but shared support departments such as finance, human resources, and laboratory services. Then, in 1981, Kosair Crippled Children Hospital merged with Childrens.
It doesnt sound like much now, but in 1969 that (the merger with Childrens Hospital) was pretty cutting-edge stuff, Mountz says, recalling that the American College of Healthcare Executives frequently invited him to speak on hospital mergers during its institutes. Current Norton Chief Executive Officer Stephen Williams adds that merging a general hospital and a childrens hospital was a very unique model, and, to my knowledge, unreplicated. They achieved the economies and efficiencies where it made sense but kept separate medical staffs.
Mountz led Norton in managing small-town and rural hospitals in outlying areas, under contract, and in building extended-hour, immediate-care facilities that offered primary care to walk-in patients. The desire to work with smaller hospitals stemmed from a devotion to the not-for-profit model, at a time when many such hospitals needing help in recruiting physicians, purchasing and other realms were being bought up.
Im a pretty strong faith-based guy, Mountz says. You have no shareholders to feed. Youre putting whatever surplus you have back into the organization, and the community benefits from it. Its just one of those things that I think is common sense. Theres a different motivation. The problem with (public companies) is, the next quarter is much more important than five years from now.
Mountzs move to set up immediate-care facilities with extended hours sparked a minor revolution in the medical community in Louisville, he recalls. Physicians didnt have office hours at odd hours, he says, but that meant people flooded emergency rooms. It was a terrible disservice for people who really did have an emergency.
After Mountzs tenure, Methodist Evangelical Hospital merged with Norton (then called NKC) in 1989 and purchased four formerly Columbia-HCA-owned hospitals in 1998. The resulting Norton Healthcare now employs 9,700 people, with 2,000 physicians in three hospitals and has nearly half of the areas market share. The fact that we moved from that smaller community hospital to the biggest healthcare system in this region is probably the thing Im proudest of, Mountz says.
He really epitomizes the Norton history, says Williams, who still has breakfast with Mountz every two or three months. Wade provided incredible leadership for well over 30 years to the Norton organization. He was known as a tough but very fair-minded administrator, and an unusually savvy businessperson.
During his time at Norton, Mountz rose to leadership positions in the wider healthcare field. He served as chairman of the American Hospital Association in 1975; co-founded the first offshore insurance firm that was formed to address a malpractice crisis in the mid-1970s; and provided early leadership for Voluntary Hospitals of America, now VHA, serving as its first board chairman and staying for three terms.
Norton became the third hospital to join the insurance company, which helped to insure against lawsuits that were severely affecting obstetrics, neurosurgery and other tight specialties, Mountz says.
Mountz became involved with VHA as he finished his chairmanship of the AHA. I knew a lot of people across the country, people running good hospitals, people who had the respect of their boards to the point where they could commit their hospitals, and people we knew enough to trust, he recalls. We were looking for the critical mass that the chains were developing. We couldnt do it as individual hospitals. We couldnt match, ourselves, the critical mass, and the buying power, and the political power, and the management expertise and so forth.
The 29 original members, carefully chosen so as not to lump together competitors in the same market into an uncomfortable arrangement, have grown to 2,300 today. VHAs group purchasingwhich wasnt the initial impetus for the organization but has become its primary focusreached $1 billion by 1986 and $30 billion today, handled through a separate organization called Novation, says current VHA CEO Curt Nonomaque. He credits Mountz for saving VHA from potential ruin when it faced a financial crisis, and he helped run the organization on an interim basis in the late 1980s.
Wades a conscientious guy whos always paid a lot of attention to how organizations work, says Tom Smith, who led VHA from 1991 to 2003.
Stanley Nelson, another Health Care Hall of Famer, recalls the compatibility among VHAs founders. We all believed in the voluntary, not-for-profit hospital as probably the best way of providing health and hospital services to our communities. Nelson adds that Mountz developed a magnificent hospital system in Louisville, and at the same time, he recognized his responsibilities to the industry at large and spent a lot of time serving that. You could almost call him a hospital-healthcare statesman.
As he looks back on his career, Mountz says he believes integrity, vision and respect for everyone are the most important qualities in a successful healthcare executive. Were dealing with professionals, and one of the qualities of the professional is that you can depend on their word and their actions, he says. Thinking out of the box is very important: The business that Weve always done it that way is probably the worst expression in the world. Ive tried to think beyond where we are. He also tried to respect peoples suggestions. Some of the best ideas that I ever came across were from people who arent paid to make ideas, but they know because theyre doing it, Mountz says.
Williams says that Mountz served as a mentor to himand many othersallowing young staffers to attend high-level meetings and debriefing them afterward. He really is an icon in the industry and very well-thought-of throughout the industry.
Outside of the healthcare field, Mountz spent five years on the Kentucky Board of Education during a time when the states Supreme Court invalidated the entire K-12 educational system, and the Legislature had to start from scratch. I did it because I think education is the only way a state like Kentucky is going to pull themselves out of where they are economically, says Mountz, who chaired a citizens committee that provided ground-level input.
Mountzs only regret, in retrospect, is that his heavy hospital and industry involvement sometimes subtracted from time spent with his wife of 61 years, Betty, and their two sons. Sometimes, I got to one of my kids games at the half, and I could have gotten there at the beginning if I hadnt talked to that doctor at the back door on my way out, he says. We were still working six days a week when I first went to the hospital. The hours put in, theyre a little different now.