Right new guy for the UNT Health Science Center

Posted Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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If a good thing has come out of the recent brouhaha over the firing of Scott Ransom from his job as president of the University of Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, it's that the UNT Board of Regents discovered Dr. Michael Williams and named him interim president. Actually, there's another good thing -- the idea of combining the Denton and Fort Worth institutions seems to be dead, at least for now.

Part of the knock on Ransom was that he was angling behind the scenes for the top job if the schools were combined. And with the news this past week that UNT President Lane Rawlins will retire in 2014, Ransom's advancement might have been a possibility if he had read the situation a little better.

I didn't know Williams before we sat down for breakfast recently with editorial page director Mike Norman and Tim Doke, UNTHSC senior vice president of community engagement. Several people in the Fort Worth leadership community have told me that, although they were sorry to see Ransom shown the door, those who had met Williams came away impressed.

He seems to be almost perfect. He's from Fort Worth, and he's a Health Science Center alum, having earned his doctor of osteopathy degree in 1981. He's an M.D., too; has advanced degrees in management from both Duke and Harvard and in his first administrative job turned around the once-troubled hospital in Fredericksburg.

I guess the only knock against him would be that he has no track record as an educator, although his collection of degrees shows he's a constant learner. Wonder why he never found time to get a law degree or Ph.D. What a slacker!

He got to be chief executive of the Fredericksburg hospital in a similar way to his situation now -- board members asked him to be interim president while they did a search, then found he was the right person for the permanent job.

He helped make Fredericksburg a top performer by adopting what seems to be a no-brainer approach that some healthcare institutions haven't grasped: Let's make it all about the patients.

After all, Williams says, a hospital is really just a hotel for sick people. Let's make the experience as stress-free as possible.

He instituted a "5-10 rule." Employees who come within 10 feet of a customer must look them in the eye if they cross paths, and if they're within 5 feet, they must speak.

Wouldn't we all be better off if we adopted that friendly philosophy in our daily lives?

He also brought in people from Ritz-Carlton and Southwest Airlines to provide ideas on how to improve customer service and create a better company culture.

If he's picked to lead UNTHSC, he says, his goal is to train physicians who will be patient-oriented. I mean both osteopaths and M.D.s. Getting an M.D. program for the school is still a priority for the regents. There aren't many schools in the country that offer that double-play.

We need our local legislative heavyweights -- Sen. Jane Nelson and Rep. Charlie Geren -- to get that horse into the barn, but with nothing filed by Friday's deadline for non-emergency bills, it looks like it will be delayed another two years.

But there's a real question about whether the D.O. community will ever accept an M.D. program. With feet already in both worlds, Williams could execute a tricky detente.

Expectations are that the regents will pick a new president before the end of May. Why lose momentum by picking someone who would have to do a lot of learning on the job when the right person is already here?

Jim Witt is executive editor of the Star-Telegram



Twitter: @jimelvis

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