Ded­i­cated to mold­ing new lead­ers

Modern Healthcare - - 2014 HEALTH CARE HALL OF FAME - By Sabriya Rice

When asked what keeps him go­ing af­ter more than 50 years in the field of health­care man­age­ment ed­u­ca­tion, John Grif­fith will tell you, “Op­por­tu­nity in­spires me. I like to see stu­dents get bet­ter. I like to see hos­pi­tals suc­ceed. I like to see prob­lems get solved.”

As the man who lit­er­ally wrote the book on the topic, Grif­fith is rec­og­nized for his quan­ti­ta­tive ap­proach in help­ing health­care or­ga­ni­za­tions, and their fu­ture lead­ers, to in­sti­tute the best prac­tices that lead to higher per­for­mance and cul­tures of em­pow­er­ment.

Grif­fith’s widely used text­book, The Well-Man­aged Health­care Or­ga­ni­za­tion, out­lines a lead­er­ship cul­ture that pro­motes team­work and em­pha­sizes the need for con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment in the hospi­tal set­ting. Orig­i­nally pub­lished in 1987, the book is now in its sev­enth edi­tion, and many still con­sider it to be the most com­pre­hen­sive re­source in the field. It’s also a past win­ner of the James A. Hamil­ton Award for book of the year from the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Health­care Ex­ec­u­tives.

For Grif­fith, though, a pub­li­ca­tion called Quan­ti­ta­tive Tech­niques for Hospi­tal Plan­ning and Con­trol (pub­lished in 1972) is the one he’s most proud of. It fo­cuses on med­i­cal qual­ity, mea­sur­ing mar­ket share and fore­cast­ing de­mand, which he says were rel­a­tively un­ex­plored ter­ri­to­ries at the time. Though most of the ideas in that par­tic­u­lar work are now out of date, Grif­fith said, he be­lieves the book helped to give struc­ture to the cur­rent ap­proach to health­care man­age­ment. “It started the process and got a lot of people think­ing,” he said. “We were more ready than we would have been with­out that work.”

“He has an ab­so­lute un­wa­ver­ing drive to pro­duce lead­ers for the field who un­der­stand that man­age­ment is both art and sci­ence.”

For his ef­forts tack­ling the com­plex­i­ties of health­care man­age­ment, and for five decades of pro­vid­ing aca­demic in­struc­tion to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of health­care lead­ers, Grif­fith, 80, is one of this year’s in­ductees to Mod­ern Health­care’s Health Care Hall of Fame.

Cur­rently pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus, he last served as the Andrew Pat­tullo col­le­giate pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of health man­age­ment and pol­icy at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan at Ann Ar­bor, where he had been on the fac­ulty since 1960. He’s also a con­sul­tant to nu­mer­ous pri­vate and pub­lic or­ga­ni­za­tions. As the au­thor of more than a dozen text­books, he had no short­age of ma­te­rial to shape his cur­ric­ula, but his main fo­cus has been to help both grad­u­ate stu­dents and prac­tic­ing health­care ex­ec­u­tives trans­late book knowl­edge into ac­tual ap­pli­ca­tions.

“A text­book does not im­part skills, it im­parts facts,” Grif­fith said. “To teach stu­dents skills you have to get them to ap­ply what is in the text­book.”

For­mer stu­dents re­call real-world ap­pli­ca­tion as be­ing a ma­jor pri­or­ity in Grif­fith’s class­room.

“The skills in the text­book taught us how to use sci­ence to solve the prob­lems, but when in the real world, a great deal of art must be ap­plied,” said Peter But­ler, pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer at Rush Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Chicago and one of Grif­fith’s nom­i­na­tors for the award. “The cul­ture of an or­ga­ni­za­tion can de­rail the best-laid plans. He helped teach us how to bridge the gap be­tween the sci­ence and art of man­ag­ing.”

But­ler said Grif­fith saw each en­counter with a stu­dent as a new op­por­tu­nity to shape the fu­ture. “Whether in the class­room or in the var­i­ous fo­rums in which he leads or par­tic­i­pates, he is a role model for help­ing us work on the right things with the right val­ues guid­ing our de­ci­sions.” An­other for­mer stu­dent of­fered sim­i­lar ob­ser­va­tions. “He has an ab­so­lute un­wa­ver­ing drive to pro­duce lead­ers for the field who un­der­stand that man­age­ment is both art and sci­ence,” said Wayne Lerner, for­mer pres­i­dent and CEO of Holy Cross Hospi­tal in Chicago and past pres­i­dent of Jewish Hospi­tal in St. Louis. He now serves as chair­man of a cen­ter named for his teacher: the Grif­fith Lead­er­ship Cen­ter at the Univer­sity

of Michi­gan, which aims to bridge the gap be­tween academia and prac­tice.

Lerner, who at­tended the Univer­sity of Michi­gan as a grad­u­ate stu­dent from 1971-73, re­mem­bers Grif­fith as hav­ing a “hard edge,” and says the pro­fes­sor would sit with his feet propped on the desk while at­ten­tively fo­cus­ing on each stu­dent’s pre­sen­ta­tion. If Grif­fith thought a stu­dent was not mea­sur­ing up to his or her true po­ten­tial, Lerner jok­ingly re­calls that the pro­fes­sor would of­fer “choice words.” But that was also part of what made him such a great teacher, Lerner said.

“It was his way of say­ing to step back, think about what you’re say­ing and don’t take the easy way out,” Lerner said. “He wanted us to stand up to the chal­lenge. He forced us to think about the events that were un­fold­ing in our lives.”

Grif­fith, born in Bal­ti­more, was the only child of Eleanor Bond Grif­fith, a school­teacher, and Richard Robin­son Grif­fith, an ad­min­is­tra­tor in a Delaware hospi­tal for more than 25 years.

He en­tered Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity as an in­dus­trial en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent in the 1950s, and re­mem­bers work­ing on a project where he counted pedes­trian traf­fic at the front door of the hospi­tal to ex­plore ways of im­prov­ing traf­fic flow. He later went on to study hospi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tion at the Univer­sity of Chicago, grad­u­at­ing in 1957.

Over the years, Grif­fith has pub­lished more than 50 re­search pa­pers in var­i­ous peer­re­viewed pub­lic health, health­care man­age­ment and lead­er­ship jour­nals, in ad­di­tion to the books he has au­thored or co-au­thored.

He also is a past chair­man of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Univer­sity Pro­grams in Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion, a for­mer com­mis­sioner for what is now called the Com­mis­sion on Ac­cred­i­ta­tion of Health­care Man­age­ment Ed­u­ca­tion, and from 2001 to 2007 he was se­nior ad­viser to the gov­ern­ing board of the Na­tional Cen­ter for Health­care Lead­er­ship.

Grif­fith is no stranger to in­dus­try recog­ni­tion. He is a 2002 re­cip­i­ent of the Gary L. Fil­er­man Prize for Ed­u­ca­tional Lead­er­ship from the AUPHA, a win­ner of the Health­care In­for­ma­tion and Man­age­ment Sys­tems So­ci­ety’s Book of the Year in 2000 and a three-time hon­oree of the Dean Con­ley Award for ar­ti­cle of the year, to name just a few.

De­spite his many ac­com­plish­ments, Grif­fith said he is al­ways look­ing for new chal­lenges. He is work­ing to de­velop a multimedia app that can help stu­dents ap­ply text­book knowl­edge in a vir­tual hospi­tal set­ting. Af­ter that, he hopes to au­thor a multimedia course for people who want to mas­ter the man­age­ment of health­care or­ga­ni­za­tions.

His con­tin­ued drive is not sur­pris­ing to for­mer stu­dents. “He lives, eats and breathes health­care lead­er­ship,” Lerner said. “He is some­one who is com­mit­ted to mak­ing health­care the best that it can be, and he un­der­stands that his abil­ity to af­fect the sys­tem is through the pipe­line of stu­dents en­ter­ing the field.”

But­ler agreed, say­ing, “I be­lieve he has re­in­forced that health­care man­age­ment is a pro­fes­sion unto it­self.”

To make the pro­fes­sion stronger, But­ler said his for­mer pro­fes­sor and men­tor is con­stantly re­fresh­ing his own think­ing, writ­ings, opin­ions and ap­proaches, just as he en­cour­ages each of his stu­dents to do.

Per­haps to truly un­der­stand what mo­ti­vates Grif­fith, it helps to be fa­mil­iar with the chil­dren’s tune “The Bear Went Over the Moun­tain.” The song de­scribes an in­quis­i­tive bear who trav­eled from his home to the other side of a moun­tain to “see what he could see.” The lyrics also take the cu­ri­ous bear over a river, through a val­ley, across a meadow ... and as many other lo­ca­tions as a child’s imag­i­na­tion can pon­der.

“That’s ba­si­cally what I’ve done,” Grif­fith said, cit­ing the song. “I’ve gone from one prob­lem to the next, to the next and to the next, see­ing what we can do to make it work bet­ter.”

John Grif­fith

Grif­fith, the au­thor of health­care man­age­ment text­books still con­sid­ered the gold stan­dard in the in­dus­try, has been a fix­ture at book sign­ings.

Grif­fith, right, with Wolver­ine State col­league Gail War­den, a long­time CEO of Henry Ford Health Sys­tem in Detroit who’s also in the Hall of Fame.

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