When medical malpractice attorney Debbie Dudley Branson was asked to serve on the Board of Managers at Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas, she was told the position would require no more than 12 hours a week. But since she accepted the position three years ago, it mushroomed into a 60-hour-a-week job for Branson, who later was elected by her fellow trustees to chair the public hospital system's seven-person board.
She did not foresee the magnitude of the coming crises. Branson became the guiding force leading Dallas County's all-important safety net system through life-or-death challenges. But Parkland emerged on the other side with significantly improved quality of care and a soon-to-be-opened new central facility. For her achievements, Modern Healthcare has selected her as Trustee of the Year for not-for-profit health systems.
Starting in 2008, the safety net hospital—best known for treating the mortally wounded President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago—faced a series of state and federal investigations into its clinical and financial practices. Those probes culminated in 2011 when the CMS, in a rare move, threatened to exclude the hospital from the Medicare and Medicaid programs, putting at risk $450 million a year in payments. The CMS action followed investigative articles in the Dallas Morning News in 2010 alleging severe quality-of-care problems; lack of supervision by attending physicians over residents and medical students; and billing fraud. The newspaper accused the hospital of fiercely resisting the release of information about these issues.