Allen Hicks, who his cohorts and friends described as the father of the modern-day hospital system, passed away last week of natural causes at the age of 91.
A long-time hospital administrator, Hicks served as CEO of Community Hospitals in Indianapolis and co-founded the malpractice insurance firm MultiHospital Mutual Insurance. In 1977, Hicks would co-found the Voluntary Hospitals of America, or VHA, which would become one of the nation's largest purchasing cooperatives.
He took his role as a mentor and colleague seriously, even decades after working with a fellow administrator.
"I was still a mentee of his after all those years," said Douglas Deck, a retired hospital executive who worked under Hicks at Community Hospitals, which he affectionately called 'Camelot.' "I would call him with an issue and he would walk me through it—the other guys did the same thing. He was a leader for all types of people, and people would gravitate toward him."
Hicks is survived by his four children—David, Dennis, Wendy and Patricia—eight grandchildren, and his brother Darrel.
The Toronto, Iowa-native who served in the Navy in World War II and the Korean War set out to be an accountant but changed paths after a colleague told him there were already plenty of those, Hicks told Modern Healthcare in 2001 when he was inducted into the Modern Healthcare Hall of Fame.
In 1955 with a master's degree in hospital administration from Iowa University in hand, Hicks became the CEO of the then-50-bed Schmitt Memorial Hospital in Beardstown, Ill., helping the hospital earn its first-ever accreditation from the Joint Commission. He would go on to become the chief executive at a handful of other hospitals over his 46-year career. His peers described him as an innovator who ushered in a new era of healthcare administration.
After his time at Memorial Hospital, Hicks was recruited to lead Pekin (Ill.) Public Hospital where he implemented a new program developed by Western Pennsylvania Blue Cross that aimed to reduce utilization, lower costs and appease some of the town's largest employers. Hicks ultimately established one of the first full-service, hospital-based home healthcare programs in the country as well as one of the first digital accounting systems in a hospital.
"Allen taught us this was a clinical enterprise, not a business," Deck said. "So we had to understand that the doctors were our partners."
Hicks would ask Deck, "What's good?" He knew the bad news already, and this gave them a chance to share something they were proud of, Deck said.
"That was so reaffirming to all of us," he said.
His career would eventually take him to Community Hospitals where he would co-found the malpractice insurance firm MultiHospital Mutual Insurance as well as the VHA, both of which foreshadowed a growing need.
"Allen was one of the people who not only predicted the future of healthcare, he made it what it needed to be," said Robert Clarke, a retired healthcare executive who also worked with Hicks at Community Hospitals.
Hicks gave Samuel Odle an administrative residency at Community Hospitals during a time when "no one else would help a young African American student break into healthcare management," he said. "Without him, my career would have likely stalled in grad school."
Hicks had the ability to identify a community need and meet it, Odle added.
For instance, Hicks pushed outpatient care at Community Hospitals many years before the idea was mainstream. He also helped the health system establish for-profit subsidiaries related to laundry services, equipment maintenance and others, pioneering a strategy many systems use today.
Hicks told Modern Healthcare in 2001 that you must set goals, but don't act rashly, and don't act without the advice of your boards and volunteers.
"You have to set your sights high, but not get fired," Hicks said.
Hicks, who was a longtime American College of Healthcare Executives fellow, taught Clarke that his only limitation was his imagination.
"He would let everyone know the strategic plan, then cut people loose and give them the ability to perform," Clarke said. "I couldn't have learned more from a person in those years—I owe him a great deal of gratitude. If you ask the leaders in healthcare who the movers and shakers in the field were, Allen Hicks would undoubtedly be in that group."
During his last months in a nursing facility in Arizona, Hicks took a special interest in a medtech professional and urged her to get a registered nursing degree.
"Your dad told me I have what it takes," the caregiver told Wendy Niemi, Hicks' daughter.
"He did that with everyone that he met," Niemi said. "What set him apart was how much he cared about people. Everybody loved him because he took a special interest in their lives."