Hospital leaders were struggling from the onslaught of COVID-19 in mid-2020 when C. Duane Dauner, the retired longtime president and CEO of the California Hospital Association, died in a car accident that July.
His loss reverberated throughout the country, said Carmela Coyle, who succeeded Dauner upon his retirement in 2017. Since then, many healthcare leaders facing unprecedented challenges have asked themselves, “What would Duane do?”
“WWDD–that’s what we say,” Coyle said. She knew him for 29 years and has an idea about the counsel that Dauner—affectionately known as the Energizer Bunny—would give.
“Duane was clearly a master of understanding not only healthcare policies
but understanding the implications of those policies.”
Fred Brown, founding CEO of BJC HealthCare in St. Louis,
said in his nomination letter.
2017 Awarded Distinguished Service Award from the American Hospital Association
2014 Appointed to USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics Advisory Board
2008 Awarded the Ludlam-Gamble Award from National Health Foundation
2002 Awarded Gold Medal from American College of Healthcare Executives
Starting in 1996 Served on American Hospital Association Hospital Research and Educational Trust board of trustees for nearly 20 years
1994 Published “The Health Care Solution”
Career in review
1985-2017 President and CEO, California Hospital Association
1985 President and CEO, Missouri Hospital Association
1968-75 Vice president, Kansas Hospital Association
1966-68 Director of research, Kansas Health Facilities Information Services
1965-66 Assistant professor of mathematics, Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas
Mathematics, Wichita (Kansas) State University, 1964
Mathematics and logic, Wichita State University, 1962
“It wouldn’t be operational advice—I think he would be encouraging leaders today by saying, ‘Now is the time to build up your energy, to share your energy with others, to lead like you haven’t led before, and to really step up to the task,’ ” she said.
For his 50 years of hospital association leadership and health policy influence, Dauner is being inducted into Modern Healthcare’s Health Care Hall of Fame.
Trained as a math professor, Dauner’s first job in healthcare was director of research for the Kansas Health Facilities Information Services. From there, he moved to the Kansas Hospital Association and then to the Missouri Hospital Association, where he served as CEO for a decade.
In 1985, he took the CHA helm. John King, former chair of the American Hospital Association board of trustees and a 2019 Hall of Fame inductee, admired Dauner’s ability to respect the opinions of others, while also putting forth his own perspective, while leading the CHA.
“What a difficult challenge in a state that is full of hospitals that are very diverse, large and led by very talented and opinionated people,” he said. “Duane was respected by this group of hospital leaders and he led them down the right path time after time.”
Dauner’s 32-year career with the CHA left an indelible mark on healthcare in California, Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the AHA, said in a letter nominating Dauner for the Hall of Fame.
“This included, among other significant contributions, improving access to care for millions by helping secure funding for California’s Medi-Cal program, as well as creating the Hospital Quality Institute, dedicated to improving patient safety and quality, and establishing California as a leader in quality-improvement efforts,” Pollack wrote.
The AHA honored Dauner in 2018 with its Distinguished Service Award—the association’s highest honor—for his contribution to establishing a high-quality, efficient, patient- and community-centric hospital field. Coyle recalls Dauner’s penchant for helping others succeed.
“He was the one to reach out to new leaders, whether those were hospital leaders, state association leaders, or other healthcare leaders within this state, to make connections,” she said. “I bet there is not a leader in California who wasn’t helped in some way by Duane. And their stories are, ‘He connected me with this person. He suggested I look at this. He recommended me for an interview. He helped me with a really difficult issue with my board.’ ”
That caring spirit was innate, according to Dauner’s widow, Diane.
"Duane was put on this earth to do something to make life better for others,” she said. “He will always be remembered for doing favors for people he cared about. He couldn’t say no to anyone.”
His focus on individuals was matched by his focus on the public policies needed to best serve the population at large.“His commitment to ensuring every person has access to healthcare was in his DNA,” Diane Dauner said. “Even in retirement, he worked every day to further this vision.”
That unrelenting advocacy for universal healthcare coverage dated back to the Clinton administration, Coyle said. Dauner co-wrote a book, “The Health Care Solution: Understanding the Crisis and the Cure,” published in 1994, in which he advocated for several concepts that ultimately found their way into the Affordable Care Act in 2010.
In addition to Dauner’s contributions to the ACA, Coyle cites his role in the development of California’s Medicaid reform policy option, and in building a model collaboration agreement between the CHA and the state’s three regional hospital associations.
2022 Hall of Fame judges
President and CEO
American College of Healthcare Executives
Publisher, Modern Healthcare
Retired president and CEO
President and CEO
President and CEO
Dauner was a resource not only for the national and state hospital associations across the country but also the executive branch of government at the federal, state and local levels, congressional leaders and their staffs and state legislatures, Fred Brown, founding CEO of BJC HealthCare in St. Louis, said in his nomination letter.
“Duane was clearly a master of understanding not only healthcare policies but understanding the implications of those policies,” Brown, past AHA chairman and a 2014 Hall of Fame inductee, wrote. “I always considered Duane as one of two or three people in the country that clearly understood health policy and was able to interpret and simplify for others.”
Lola Butcher is a freelance writer based in Springfield, Missouri.