Health Care Hall of Fame - 2006
For a man who stayed at one hospital for 30 years, D. Kirk Oglesby Jr. got around. Oglesby, 75, was president of Anderson (S.C.) Memorial Hospital from 1967 to 1997. But at different times in his career, he also chaired three of healthcare's most prominent organizations: the American Hospital Association, American College of Healthcare Executives and Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.
"Kirk is comfortable in his own place and his own skin and his own environment, and wanted to make a difference there," says Ben Latimer, who has known Oglesby since the two were involved in the 1969 formation of Carolinas Hospital and Health Services, a regional alliance of hospitals that eventually merged into Premier. "On one hand, to my knowledge, Kirk has been the leader of every organization he's ever been at," Latimer says. "On the other hand, underspoken is the only word I can come up with."
Other colleagues use words like humble, quiet, dignified and understated to describe Oglesby's leadership style. His nickname among friends and colleagues is "Straight Arrow."
"Dramatic moments were not Kirk's thing, but people loved him and love him still today," says JCAHO President Dennis O'Leary.
For someone who never draws attention to himself and professes to be surprised whenever he receives a tribute, Oglesby racked up his share of accolades over the years. The most recent one to come his way was just last month, when his local newspaper, the Anderson (S.C.) Independent Mail, named him one of five recipients of its annual Pointing the Way leadership award, not for his many years of service in the healthcare field, but for what he has done for his local community since he retired in 1997.
In addition, he received the South Carolina Hospital Association's distinguished service award in 1983, the ACHE's Gold Medal award in 1993, and the AHA's Distinguished Service award in 1997.
Oglesby was born in Gastonia, N.C., and grew up in Rock Hill, S.C., the only child of parents who were devoted to him. "I hope that I never disappointed them, but they never disappointed me, I can tell you that," he says.
He attended Davidson (N.C.) College on a football scholarship, which provided an early lesson: "Anytime you have to work for something yourself, it always means more to you than if it was a gift," he says.
With a degree in economics, a Phi Beta Kappa key, and a desire to help people, Oglesby pursued Duke University's certificate program in hospital administration, and at the tender age of 25, he landed his first hospital administrator job, at Union Memorial Hospital in Monroe, N.C.
"That just doesn't happen anymore, and it shouldn't have happened then," Oglesby says.
One of his toughest lessons in that job was that colleagues would not always treat him as favorably as had his parents. "You had to make your case, you had to prove it, you had to argue about it," he says. "It was a tough lesson but one well-learned. I guess I'm more introverted than extroverted, but I also believe that you learn a lot more listening than talking."
Being a good listener enabled Oglesby to handle many an awkward situation, including being chairman of the Joint Commission in 1993, when the AHA-which he had just chaired the year before-was waging a heated battle against the commission. "It came at a time when there was a lot of argument about where the Joint Commission should go," he recalls. "That was interesting. ... It was a real challenge to be involved in that way."
As O'Leary recalls it from the Joint Commission's perspective, "The things we were trying to get done were just a little short of moving mountains." Those mountains included revamping the entire hospital accreditation process, or taking 40 years' worth of established practices, throwing them in the trash and starting from scratch. In addition, Oglesby's chairmanship coincided with the Joint Commission's initial efforts to roll out performance measurements, one of the initiatives that angered the AHA.
AHA President Richard Davidson recalls the period as "a very complicated set of circumstances."
"Here's us making a public assault on the Joint Commission because we didn't think we were being heard," Davidson says, "and the chair of the Joint Commission is our immediate past leader. He had a steady, cool hand. "
Ultimately, the relationship between the AHA and the Joint Commission improved, partly because of Oglesby's ability to moderate between the two groups. "Thank goodness he was in that role," Davidson says, "because everybody survived and the Joint Commission performed better."
Oglesby's involvement in the national healthcare scene did not detract from his commitment to his own hospital and community. "Anderson has always been home for me and my family," he says. "I always tried to think of it in the most positive ways and remember that that's where my most basic responsibilities lay."
While he had several opportunities to move elsewhere, he says, he never "got to the point where I had such an itch to move that I did it." His wife and three daughters also made it clear they wanted to stay put, he says.
Oglesby is proud of how Anderson Memorial, now called AnMed Health, developed over the years from a small community hospital into a healthcare system with a family-practice residency program, several hospitals and numerous outpatient services. He continues to be involved as president emeritus, and he still has an office at the hospital.
Today AnMed operates a women's and children's hospital, a substance-abuse facility and a rehabilitation hospital, in addition to 25 outpatient facilities. Some 28 to 30 family-practice residents practice there each year.
Oglesby's national activities did allow his second-in-command and successor, John Miller Jr., to take on more responsibilities than he might have under other circumstances, and for that Miller says he is grateful.
"We worked together well, and I was able to do things that probably many other chief operating officers don't get a chance to do because of his involvement in national things," he says. Oglesby's greatest legacy, Miller says, was his teaching. "He is a role model; he believed in practicing what he preached."
Oglesby was serious to the point of sometimes making people uncomfortable, according to Miller. "He sometimes made people think about things they didn't want to think about," he says. "That's what leadership is about sometimes."
Car rides to meetings could be awkward because of the lack of small talk. "He's not a chatty person," Miller says. "But he's always thinking, and when he speaks, people listen because he usually comes out with a very profound thought."
There were also failures at Anderson Memorial over the years, and Oglesby says he learned from them. One was a merger attempt in 1995 that would have joined hospitals in Anderson, Greenville, and Spartanburg in a joint operating system. The idea was a good one: that a regional system could combine forces and reduce costs.
But the reality was more complicated. First the U.S. Justice Department launched an antitrust investigation in July 1996, and four months later, Greenville residents voted against the deal in a referendum.
"The AGS system didn't work out the way I hoped it would, but it was still a great experience," Oglesby says.
According to John Hunt, an Anderson surgeon and the current board chairman of AnMed, Oglesby handled this defeat with grace. "He didn't get mad, he didn't have fireworks, he accepted it, and we sort of redoubled our efforts in Anderson to take as much advantage as we could of what the current environment had to offer," he says.
Out of that failed effort grew expanded neurosurgical and cardiac surgery offerings at AnMed, Hunt says. In all likelihood, if the merger had gone through, those programs would have been reserved for one of the other hospitals in the system.
Oglesby has also been involved in many local boards, bringing common sense and financial discipline to organizations such as the United Way and the Greenwood Genetic Center, which provides diagnostic services and treatments for disabling genetic conditions, Hunt says.
One of Oglesby's greatest contributions to AnMed only became apparent when he announced his retirement, in his typical understated way.
Hunt, who was in the first of his two terms as board chairman, says Oglesby handed him an envelope and told him to open it when he got home from the board meeting. The envelope contained his resignation.
"We had not had any experience at all in selecting a new CEO for 35 years, so we did not know what to do," Hunt says. After a national search, aided by consultants, the board decided that the most qualified person was Miller, whom Oglesby had been mentoring for 25 years.
"He was really doing a wonderful job of succession planning," Hunt says.
Oglesby, for his part, says serving the community through his work has been a privilege over the years.
"To be associated with my peers from all around has to be one of the great experiences of my life," he says. "There are just so many bright, intelligent, committed persons in this business, and I've had the opportunity to sit at a table with them."