“He had a great vision for what changes needed to be made,” said Don Wegmiller, a friend and colleague of Nelson's who formerly served as a top executive at Allina Health, which today owns Abbott Northwestern.
Wegmiller said Nelson personally lobbied Henry Ford to donate $200 million to Nelson's next project, which was to expand the ailing Henry Ford Hospital in downtown Detroit by establishing outpatient clinics in outlying communities during the suburban exodus of the 1970s.
“That was again unheard of,” Wegmiller said. “People said, academic medical centers are downtown. They run a hospital and that's what they do. And Stanley had the vision to say, no, that has to change. And he did it.”
Nelson was later credited as the “conceptual architect” for the entity known today as Henry Ford Health System.
Also during his career, Nelson served as one of the founders of the Voluntary Hospitals of America, which eventually became the Irving, Texas-based VHA, and he was also chairman of the American Hospital Association in 1982.
In the 1990s, Nelson had another thought. Wegmiller recalled a conversation in which Nelson observed that modern healthcare systems couldn't succeed in the long run unless all the physicians and hospitals started using uniform information systems.
“I said I agree, but what are we going to do about it?” Wegmiller recalled. “I said, you and I together don't even know how to spell 'information technology.' He said that shouldn't stop us. Let's bring all the smart people in healthcare that we know together, and they'll figure it out.”
So in 1993 they and others formed the Scottsdale Institute, a not-for-profit consortium of healthcare organizations that plan and share information on healthcare IT trends. Today the Minneapolis-based organization—of which Wegmiller is vice chairman, and Nelson was chairman—has 50 members who meet regularly to discuss strategy, adoption and benchmarks for one of the hottest areas of healthcare today: information technology.
An e-mail to Scottsdale Institute board members from Executive Director Shelli Williamson reported that Nelson died at 12:01 a.m. Friday at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park following an admission for what was thought to be pneumonia. Additional complications were discovered during his care, and it eventually became clear he had a terminal illness.
“As he said to us yesterday evening, 'Take care of our baby, Scottsdale Institute,' ” Williamson's e-mail to board members Friday morning said. “We promised him we would.”