The reshaping of governance at Exempla Healthcare in Denver made for trying times. There were court actions, public protests and rebellious board members — even a hostile bill in the state legislature.
Through it all, William M. Murray kept his cool. The result is a better-capitalized network of three local hospitals, with the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System of Lenexa, Kan., in charge and plans secured for a new Exempla Saint Joseph Hospital in downtown Denver.
Murray was president and chief executive of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System throughout the two-year effort to reshape the ownership of Exempla. His dignified approach to persuading opponents exemplifies the leadership style he practiced — one that modeled ministry values. For that, Murray is the 2011 recipient of CHA's Sr. Concilia Moran Award for visionary leadership. Murray, 66, retired as chief executive in January and is completing wrap-up work as a special advisor.
Mary Jo Gregory, chief operating officer for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System, said when challenges arose during Exempla's reshaping, Murray chose not to fight fire with fire.
"There were some tense days with all kinds of chaos, but Bill never demonized anybody," Gregory said. "For him, it was about completing the transaction with the least amount of pain and maximum charity for the opposition. His rule was never to speak negatively, but to speak the truth."
Said Murray, "Catholic health care is about working for the common good, a way to practice the belief in God's presence in our work. It encourages people to be idealistic in an increasingly cynical world, and it drives our work with the belief that the best is yet to be."
He said the award "is for all the people I've worked with."
The Exempla challenge
Exempla was created in 1998 by merging the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System's Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver with Lutheran Medical Center in the west suburb of Wheat Ridge. In 2004, Exempla opened Good Samaritan Medical Center in Lafayette, Colo., near Boulder. Of the three, only Saint Joseph operated under the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.
In 2007, at the urging of the Community First Foundation (Lutheran Medical's sponsor), the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System agreed to increase its operational control of Exempla and operate all three Exempla hospitals. The change in control was driven, in part, by Exempla's request for capital to invest in its hospitals. The sponsorship change was opposed by some Exempla board members, doctors, community organizations and political leaders, many of whom didn't want a Catholic system to operate all three hospitals. Murray met directly with many of them in forging the agreement. It allows the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System to invest in all three hospitals and proceed with plans for a $623 million new Exempla Saint Joseph Hospital, next to the current one downtown.
"We had a flawed joint operating agreement of secular and Catholic hospitals that put a straightjacket on Exempla's ability to grow," Murray said. "To make the change happen, our job was to explain what Catholic health care is all about."
Among the opponents were some Lutheran Medical doctors and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which tried to get the Colorado General Assembly to kill the deal. The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System obtained operational control of Exempla in December 2009.
At Murray's side during the reshaping discussions, was Sr. Doris Gottemoeller, RSM, who was board chair of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System during the Exempla makeover. She is the 2008 recipient of the Sr. Concilia Moran Award.
"It was his steadiness of vision that helped us through all the pressures," said Sr. Gottemoeller, now senior vice president for mission and values integration at Cincinnati's Catholic Health Partners. "I remember a meeting in which some of our opponents said they'd rather see (Exempla) fail than become part of a Catholic health system. Bill's resolve was to stay the course, always on the high road."
She added: "Denver is now better served by aligning Exempla with a larger system. Bill Murray is the one who guided us to that vision."
Sr. Maureen Hall, SCL, community director of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, called Murray a man of deep faith and integrity. "Bill's passion for Catholic health ministry remained the permanent tint on his lenses, regardless of the topic or issue at hand."
Gregory's and Murray's business relationship goes way back, as does her admiration for Murray's management style. She was chief executive at a Tenet Healthcare hospital when she first observed Murray's professional courage in dealing with a prominent doctor's verbal abuse of nurses. Gregory, a nurse by training, donned scrubs and witnessed the inappropriate behavior. She suspended the doctor, who defiantly responded, "You can't suspend me. I AM this hospital." He brazenly promised to pull rank and show her.
That put the case before Murray, then a Tenet regional senior vice president. His support for necessary action was immediate and unequivocal.
"His clear decision to support the employees over an arrogant physician spread through the hospital like wildfire," Gregory said. "Bill is a warm, thoughtful man, and the most important thing for him is how the ministry serves the patients. It all begins with respect. That was my first impression, and it's still true. Bill Murray is a steady guiding light."
Murray grew up in Springfield, Mass., the third of five children. After graduating from Georgetown University, he joined the Marine Corps and enrolled in officer candidate school. Lt. Murray was a platoon leader when he was wounded by shrapnel in the summer of 1968, west of Da Nang in South Vietnam. He spent two months in a hospital.
"In the Marines, I learned to be a part of something bigger than myself. I saw dedication that was extraordinary," Murray said. "The same is true in hospitals, where the ministry is to take care of people and restore them to health."
Back in the U.S., Murray became a salesman for a hospital-supply company, then earned a master's in business administration from Cornell University. After hospital work in Florida, he joined the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System's St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, Mont., first as chief operating officer and then as chief executive. While with Tenet in Arizona, he served on the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System board. He became its chief executive in 1998.
Underscoring Catholic values
Murray said he was drawn to Catholic health care "because it fulfills the church's mission of working for the common good while also being in a competitive and complex industry. It was a balance of business acumen and serving the community."
He said Catholic health care will endure because of its "core beliefs in the common good." One thing he learned from the Exempla experience is the importance for Catholic systems to consistently explain the meaning and value of Catholic health principles to their employees.
"It's something we tend to take for granted, yet it includes foundational values such as integrity, social justice and mutual respect," Murray said. "It should always be an integral part of our orientations."
Gregory, Murray's c-suite colleague, said when employees at the system headquarters in Lenexa wanted to throw a retirement party for Murray, he insisted upon nothing more than a punch-and-cookies reception in the lobby, and no gifts.
Two singers, recent graduates of the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, sang "You Raise Me Up." All 300 people in the room joined in.
"Everyone was in tears," Gregory said. "The song symbolized Bill's commitment to enrich, empower and encourage all and live a life that makes a difference."
Murray and his wife, Doreen, now live in Scottsdale, Ariz. They have three grown children.
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