Native son comes home to run Health Science Center

Posted Saturday, Mar. 02, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
Dr. Michael Williams

Age: 58

Education: Graduated from Richland High School in 1972; bachelor's degree from Texas Wesleyan University; a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree from the University of North Texas Health Science Center; a medical degree from Ross University, a master's of business administration from Duke University and a master's in healthcare management from Harvard University.

Professional: Former CEO of Hill Country Memorial Hospital in Fredericksburg; board-certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology in anesthesiology and critical care medicine.

Family: Wife, Ann; and daughters, Emma, 23, and Hannah, 18.

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FORT WORTH -- Dr. Michael Williams has made it perfectly clear that he would like to make the interim position he is holding permanent.

Williams was introduced as interim president of the University of North Texas Health Science Center in December, minutes after the UNT System Board of Regents fired Dr. Scott Ransom.

"I will be a candidate in the search," Williams said in a recent interview. "I've already made them [regents] aware of that."

Williams was a regent until he stepped down Dec. 20, the day before he was named interim president.

Ransom's removal stirred concerns among Health Science Center supporters that a strong advocate for the Fort Worth institution had been lost. Members of the UNT Health Science Center Foundation Board criticized the firing and wondered whether it would hurt chances of bringing an M.D. program to Fort Worth.

Williams, a Fort Worth native, understands that he must mend fences.

"My job will be to come in and build trust," said Williams, who has been meeting with foundation board members to address their concerns. "This institution is extremely important to Fort Worth, and Fort Worth is extremely important to this institution."

Michele Reynolds, a member of the foundation board, said she left a meeting with Williams believing that there is a potential for something positive.

She told Williams: "I have a real problem: I really don't want to like you, but my gut tells me otherwise."

Regents are expected to evaluate Williams' performance and conduct a national search before naming the next president. No timetable has been unveiled.

UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson said he plans to convene a "high-level" Fort Worth community task force to meet regularly with Williams and the regents to assess the progress and direction of the Health Science Center. Members of the group are expected to be announced this month.

M.D. program a priority

Williams, who is earning an annual salary of $647,295, said his focus is on gaining continued support for an M.D. program, obtaining state funding for the College of Pharmacy and pushing for $66 million to help pay for a 150,000-square-foot research building.

The M.D. program is No. 1 on the list.

The health science center boasts the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, a D.O. program, and some members of that community have resisted adding the M.D. program.

Jackson said that there has been a "lack of unity" and that UNT officials need to attract more support from the osteopathic community.

"Any change opens new opportunity," the chancellor said of Williams' appointment.

Sam Tessen, executive director of the Texas Osteopathic Medical Association in Austin, said Williams "has made a persistent effort to reach out to our leaders," and has attended a meeting and answered questions from association members.

Tesson said the conversation was straightforward and touched on the M.D. program and other issues related to TCOM.

"We disagree with him on the M.D. issue," Tesson said.

Williams said part of his message to the osteopathic community is that there is a synergy to having both M.D. and D.O. programs at the same institution. He said the effort is not "zero sum."

"We already have the infrastructure here," he said.

Furthermore, creating an M.D. program would help address a statewide demand.

"Texas is in need of more doctors," Williams said.

Although the M.D. program continues to have community support in Fort Worth, it has not gained traction in Austin. A law that says the Health Science Center cannot award M.D. degrees would have to be changed, and legislation would have to be passed to create such a program and its funding.

No legislation has been filed.

Lobbyist Gib Lewis, a former Texas House speaker who works on behalf of osteopaths, said creating an M.D. program at the Health Science Center "is not making any movement at all."

Lewis said he has talked to Williams in passing.

"He knows where I stand, and have stood from the very beginning," Lewis said.

'Character and integrity'

Williams holds a master's degree in healthcare management from Harvard University and previously worked as chief executive of the Hill Country Medical Center in Fredericksburg.

When he took over the hospital in 2008, it was dealing with a negative net operating income and decreased morale, according to reports.

But over time, he helped reposition the facility so it could remain a community-owned nonprofit.

In the September 2011 issue of the trade publication Becker's Hospital Review, a headline read: "Because Good Isn't Good Enough: How Dr. Michael Williams Turned Around Hill Country Memorial Hospital."

The hospital was named one of the nation's top 100 hospitals by Thompson Reuters, a provider of information and solutions on healthcare.

Before taking the permanent job as chief executive, Williams was interim CEO and served on the board of trustees. After being asked to apply for the job three times, Williams acquiesced to trustees and put his name in the running, said Monty Mohon, chief of innovation and brand officer for the hospital.

"He is very deliberate. He really does put patient safety and patient quality at the top of his list," Mohon said, adding that Williams had a vision and an understanding of changes taking place in the hospital industry.

"He's very quiet, but he is a strong man of character and integrity," Mohon said.

Williams was also involved in the community and was a vice president on the Fredericksburg school board.

Excited to be home

When people ask about his background, Williams quickly points out that he was born at Harris Methodist in Fort Worth and graduated from Richland High School in 1972. His mother graduated from North Side High School, and his father graduated from Birdville High School, which became Haltom High School.

Williams' grandparents on his mother's side owned a cabinet shop in north Fort Worth, and Williams worked there while attending college.

"I spent a lot of time in different parts of Fort Worth," he said.

Williams attended what is now Tarrant County College and later transferred to Texas Wesleyan University, where he earned his bachelor's degree. He earned a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree from TCOM.

He also has an M.D. from Ross University, a Caribbean medical school founded in 1978.

Williams said he became an M.D. after he experienced prejudice in the medical community because he had an osteopathic degree. He was once told: "There's no need for you to apply here. I don't know how to measure your education as a D.O. against that of an M.D."

That experience proved discouraging, but Williams said he learned that the best way to fight was by attacking the stereotype.

"Prejudice is based on the ignorance of someone else," he said.

Williams said he is proud of the work under way at the Health Science Center and wants to be part of developing it further. It was ranked No. 35 in primary-care education on U.S. News & World Report's 2012 list of the Top 50 Medical Schools.

"Anything worth building takes effort and time," he said. "I'm excited about the opportunity to come back home."

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

Twitter: @dianeasmith1

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