As senior associate administrator and then interim CEO at Sinai, and then at University Hospital in the New York City borough of Brooklyn—where he spent 10½ years, the longest stretch of his career—Allen completed financial turnarounds within two years.
At University Hospital, he accomplished this by upgrading capital equipment, sprucing up the facility's look and feel with artwork and neatly manicured lawns, and instilling a culture of customer and employee satisfaction, excellence and dignity. The facility also gave back to the community, developing a high school health center and creating a health center for Caribbean women in one Brooklyn neighborhood that had a large population with that heritage.
“A lot of pride was put into the place,” Allen says. “The community then looked up to us. People couldn't believe it was the same environment.”
“Not only did he see the hospital grow, he was able to work with all kinds of people,” recalls U.S. Rep. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.). “It's great that he's being recognized for all the work he's done.”
When he began his seven-year stint as president and CEO at Bon Secours Baltimore Health System starting in 1999, Allen says he faced “another place that was supposed to be buried in a short period of time.” He invested in long-delayed capital improvements such as renovating the emergency room and furthered the broader mission of the Sisters of Bon Secours by refurbishing 500 units of community housing and opening two new senior independent living facilities.
“You're helping people and making a difference in their quality of life. To me, that's what it's all about,” he says. Statuto says Allen brought in technology, such as a medical robot in the intensive-care unit, which helped physicians monitor patients, which one might not have expected in an inner-city facility. “In an underserved community, he had the ability to attract intensive and critical resources,” Statuto says.
Sister Anne Lutz, former board president at Bon Secours Baltimore, remembers how sensitively Allen approached the closure of the system's Liberty Medical Center, which had long served the African-American community on Baltimore's southwest side but had become a financial albatross. He led the creation of Trinity Garden, which provides greenery, walkways and reflection spots in the neighborhood and commemorates the rich history of the facility and its sister healthcare agencies.
“It had the potential to be a very difficult (political) situation,” Lutz says. “Percy was able to smooth it over and have it accepted as the right thing to do.”
While at Bon Secours, Allen also forged a partnership with the University of Maryland that secured a $6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study health disparities. He recalls that growing up in New Orleans, “People treated us like a number” at local hospitals. “Nobody ever called my mother ‘Mrs. Allen.'
“Some of the people we served didn't have the ability to pay, but (as a hospital leader) I always said you treat the customer with respect and dignity regardless,” Allen says. “You treat everybody as a VIP. People knew I meant that.”
Allen's work in securing the grant to study healthcare disparities echoes an earlier joint venture between the American College of Healthcare Executives and the National Association of Health Services Executives, during his tenure as president of the latter, to examine healthcare career disparities.
“We looked at the total system and the executive level (to see) where did minorities stand?” Allen says. “That was a step no one thought would happen.”
Inspired by his own mentors, such as Ridderheim and Health Care Hall of Famer Elliott Roberts Sr., with whom he worked while in graduate school, Allen has always made a point to look out for budding healthcare executives.
“I've trained and mentored so many people; I've touched them, and they've touched me,” he says. “When I went to ACHE conferences, I'd take 18 to 20 students out to lunch and just talk to them. It's all about building and helping folks understand that they can do it.”
Roberts, who retired as CEO of Charity Hospital in New Orleans in 1994 and has taught at Louisiana State University since then, says Allen has sought out his advice on many occasions but seldom needed it. “He sought it, at any rate,” Roberts says. “His ability to lead allowed him to progress the way he did. He has a personality that's a winning personality, across the board. Once you meet him, you've met him—no ifs, ands or buts about it. What you saw is what you got—always in a positive way.”
Among those Allen has mentored is Andrea Price, president and CEO of Mercy-Northern Region in Toledo, Ohio, part of Catholic Health Partners. She was a NAHSE board member when Allen served as president and says Allen is regarded as a father figure by many younger executives, often giving a first impression as someone who's quiet and reserved but then opening up. “Because of his size—he's tall and big—he doesn't want people to misinterpret him,” she says. “He has an uncanny ability to speak up and get a point across at exactly the right time. He's very thoughtful. His ability to look at both sides of the picture and give you advice is one of his abilities.” Allen says he felt a responsibility to give of his time, energy and expertise. “I always encouraged young administrators,” he says. “I've tried to be a role model, to lead by example. My success has been because I've had the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of others who went before me. They opened the doors and made the path clear.”