'It's been a great run': Saint Francis Health System president to retire

May 15, 2021


Jake Henry Jr. is retiring this summer from a career in Catholic health care that spans four decades.


June 30 will be his last day as president and chief executive of Saint Francis Health System, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has held that position for 19 years. His successor will be Dr. Cliff Robertson, who is moving to the post from CommonSpirit Health, where he had been senior vice president of operations for its Midwest Division and chief executive of CHI Health, based in Omaha, Nebraska.

Before coming to Saint Francis, Henry was president and chief executive of the six-hospital Spohn Health System in Corpus Christi, Texas, now part of CHRISTUS Health. Prior to that Henry served a long tenure with the St. Joseph Health System of Orange, California, where he was responsible for its hospitals in Texas and northern and southern California. That system is now part of Providence St. Joseph Health.

He started his career in health care administration as president of the University Health System in Lubbock, Texas, and had his first chief executive position at age 30 in San Angelo, Texas, where he built the 125-bed Angelo Community Hospital.

"It's been a great run," says Henry, who is now 75. "I've been blessed in every single assignment, certainly in my Catholic assignments."

Under his leadership, Saint Francis has added a 162-bed children's hospital and a 168-bed heart hospital to the campus of the system's flagship, Saint Francis Hospital. That hospital added 150 beds under Henry and now has 1,100.

The system has also expanded its presence across eastern Oklahoma, adding Saint Francis Hospital South, a 96-bed community hospital; Saint Francis Hospital Vinita, a 55-bed regional hospital; Saint Francis Hospital Muskogee, a 320-bed regional facility; and Saint Francis Glenpool, a healthplex with outpatient services and a 24/7 emergency department, all in Oklahoma.

Under Henry, the net worth of the system climbed from about $450 million to almost $2 billion. Henry proudly points out that it remains locally owned and governed, has zero outstanding debt and gets outstanding credit ratings.

He says his top contribution has been to bring stability and organization to a system that was headed by five different people in the 10 years before he was hired. That turnover had a toxic effect on growth, he says.

"They had never had a strategic plan and we went about instituting a planning process that exists to this day," Henry says. "We sort of have a mantra here that planning drives budget drives operations and that makes for a much more consistent, predictable and productive corporate life, I think, and it's also created a sense of accountability."

Henry says the COVID-19 pandemic has made the last year a challenging one for Saint Francis, as it has for every health care system. Saint Francis associates cared for hundreds of inpatients with the virus, expanded its telehealth services, distributed the first vaccine dosages available in the region and set up the state's first drive-thru vaccination site.

Henry says he would advise health ministry leaders to "continue to honor in a very palpable way our Catholic heritage and those things that constitute our Catholic identity and be very out front with that."

He also says it's important for systems to grow. "If you just go to the whole notion of system theory, it's been pretty well demonstrated that when a system does not receive fresh inputs to restore it, that it will move toward entropy or move toward death."

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