Far from the stereotype of a buttoned-up hospital administrator, Nebraska Medical Center leader Glenn Fosdick jokes often and slips in his love of University of Michigan sports teams whenever possible.
He announced Wednesday that he would retire at year's end from the Omaha hospital after 12 years as its leader, then joked about becoming the Huskers' defensive coordinator. “You guys probably would have said, 'You can do better,' ” he told two newspaper reporters.
His levity is part of his style, but there was plenty of substance in his years as the Nebraska Medical Center's president and CEO. Under Fosdick, the hospital:
>> Entered joint ventures in the creation and ownership of Nebraska Orthopaedic Hospital and Bellevue Medical Center.
>> Helped oversee the change to an aviation-like “crew management” safety system in med center operating rooms so that, among other things, commands are repeated to prevent miscommunication and staffers may question surgeons' directives.
>> Changed its name from the Nebraska Health System to the more clear Nebraska Medical Center.
>> Promoted a “Six Sigma” quality and efficiency program so construction projects, among other tasks, would consider the most efficient placement of equipment and supplies that would be used there.
>> Improved the hospital's financial standing. Fosdick said that when he arrived, the Nebraska Medical Center had about $8 million in cash reserves. Now it has close to $260 million, he said.
Jason Lebsack, the hospital's director of continuous quality improvement, said Fosdick talks about pursuing “the three goods”: improving clinical results, making business operations more efficient and doing things that make work easier by removing extra steps, complexities and frustrations.
Lebsack said quality-improvement efforts have focused, successfully, on reducing patient wait times, for example, when they're getting cancer treatments. The improvements can be made by clarifying staff roles, by communicating better with patients, by giving staff members feedback and by using data to measure whether progress is being made.
“He was truly the executive champion” of quality improvement, Lebsack said.
University of Nebraska Medical Center Chancellor Harold Maurer called Fosdick “an efficiency expert” who reduced expenditures on hospital supplies such as blankets, beds and surgical equipment. Finding efficiencies, Maurer said, keeps patient bills more reasonable.
“We've worked very closely together,” Maurer said. “He's been able to develop so many efficiencies in the hospital and also been able to develop significant reserves in the hospital.”
Tadd Pullin, senior vice president for marketing at the hospital, said that after Fosdick arrived, he urged the marketing department to publicly emphasize the success and innovations of hospital staffers and doctors. Fosdick, Pullin said, believed the way to do that was through patient and physician success stories.
Fosdick said Wednesday that the hospital needed to be more aggressive in promoting its strong transplant and cancer programs and other specialties. “Our people deserve the recognition that they're getting,” he said.
Fosdick said that as a boy, he was always more interested in business than science. So when, as an eighth-grader, a noncancerous tumor was removed from his brain in a Buffalo, N.Y., hospital, it was all of those people working together that impressed him more than the surgery itself.
“The teamwork and the professionalism. It struck me — what a unique place,” he recalled Wednesday. “It stuck in my mind that this was a place that did special things.”
Other than saying the tumor removal is “why I'm as crazy as I am today,” there were no lingering problems. “By 10th grade, I was playing football.”
Fosdick earned a master of health services administration at the University of Michigan and became a Michigan man for life. Not only is the academic program superb, he said, but going to a football game with more than 100,000 fans makes a guy “pretty gung-ho.”
He spoke glowingly about Michigan hockey traditions, too, such as organized taunting of the opponent's goalie when he lets a puck get through.
Fosdick, who will turn 65 next month, will continue beyond the end of the year to work on a regional collaboration program that the med center conducts with numerous rural hospitals. The program seeks to maximize group purchasing through joint insurance contracts and other expenditures.
Ultimately, he and his wife, Arlene, will move to Michigan, where their two adult sons live. Fosdick said he hopes to lecture and work part time with students and faculty in the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
Fosdick said he and his wife have loved Omaha. “This,” he said, “is a community that gets things done.”
World-Herald staff writer Bob Glissmann contributed to this report.