By Elizabeth Ford BA '93, MS-HCAD '96
On March 17, 2015, a total of 88 alumni, students, faculty and friends gathered to honor John R. Heer, Jr. '85, FACHE as the 2014 Duce Award recipient during dinner at Gibson's Steakhouse in Chicago. John and his wife, Pollyanna, now live in Florida and we were so pleased that they were both with us that evening as John accepted his award.
The Duce Award is presented annually by the Trinity University Health Care Administration Alumni Association to a graduate of the program who has shown outstanding leadership and made significant contributions to the field of health services administration. The award is named after Dean Leonard A. Duce, a former dean of the Graduate School at Trinity and one of the program's founding faculty members.
We were delighted to have Trinity University Interim President Michael R. Fischer and his wife, Kim, attend the dinner again this year. During his comments, Fischer emphasized that the learning that takes place during the residency requirement in the HCAD program is becoming a model for the larger Trinity Tomorrow Strategic Plan. He stressed that the program's mission speaks to the importance of preparing individuals for management and leadership roles in the health care field by integrating excellent academic preparation with outstanding applied and experiential learning.
HCAD Professor and Former Department Chair Mary Stefl introduced John noting that he is now the former CEO of North Mississippi Health Services (NMHS) in Tupelo, Mississippi.
"John came to Trinity in the Fall of 1983 after earning an undergraduate degree in business administration from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He completed his residency in San Antonio at what was then the Bexar County Hospital District. Following graduation, he took a position with HCA and moved on to hospital management positions in Louisiana, Florida, Arkansas and Tennessee. In 2002, he assumed his first President position at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola. Two years later, he became President and CEO of North Mississippi Health Services in Tupelo.
"That alone is a pretty laudable career trajectory. But what is truly remarkable about John's career is that he is the only CEO/President ever to have been a Baldrige Award recipient three separate times. (I think you all know that the highly-coveted Baldrige award recognizes performance excellence).
"John was President of Pensacola Baptist when it won the Baldrige back in 2003, the first year that any health care organization received the award. He was President/CEO in Mississippi when North Mississippi Health Center, a 650-bed facility, received the award in 2006. And, then in 2012, the entire integrated system of North Mississippi Health Services, serving 24 rural counties and comprised of 6 hospitals, 4 nursing homes, and 34 clinics, received the Baldrige.
"No one in health care, or the other sectors that Baldrige covers, has that distinction."
Stefl added that she "first got to know John when I invited him to be a speaker at one of our Leaders in Health Management symposia several years back. At that point, John only had two Baldrige awards to his credit, but I was pretty impressed. We had asked John to talk about his journey to excellence and how he had prepared for Baldrige. Our previous efforts had involved more than one speaker or several panelists, so I asked John if he wanted to share the podium with either a co-presenter or panelists. He politely declined, indicating that he would be able to fill the 90 minutes allocated. While I was a bit concerned about a single speaker, I had no reason to be. John captivated the audience for the entire period. His talk focused on Servant Leadership and how that was an essential ingredient in driving quality and performance excellence."
Stefl ended her remarks recalling Ken Davis' thoughts of John's leadership style. Ken is the former CMO at North Mississippi who is now at San Antonio's Methodist Healthcare System.
"Ken regrets that he can't be with us tonight, but shared some thoughts on John's leadership. He recalls John as a 'professional mentor to me and a myriad of other health care leaders, he continues to influence health care for millions of people across the world. Every day in my work, I reflect on what I learned from John. It may be hard to believe this from such an unassuming person, but don't get between him and his excellence. He epitomizes Servant Leadership in being soft on people but hard on the problem...He is one of the rare leaders that really walks the talk.'"
In addition to John's prestigious award, the meaningful networking among the HCAD family and the delicious dinner, another highlight of the evening was a spontaneous bagpipe performance by The Shannon Rovers Pipe Band that snaked through the room during HCAD Chair Ed Schumacher's comments. It was a fun and memorable addition for all who attended since the dinner fell on St. Patrick's Day this year and to celebrate the holiday in Chicago held special meaning.
John Heer exemplifies the caliber of individuals that make Trinity University shine and we thank him for his service to the health care administration field. Congratulations on a life well lived and a career worthy of recognition, John.