James Henry Stepping Down at Baptist Medical Center / `End of an Era'

Article excerpt

The man who led Baptist Medical Center through a quarter century of explosive growth is stepping down.

James L. Henry, known to intimates as Jay, will give up his post as chief executive officer of the parent Oklahoma Health Care Corp. at the end of the year, his official retirement date, but will remain a member of the board.

His closest associates at Baptist view Henry's retirement as the end of a special era - a stewartship of epochal dimensions.

In a tribute for a black tie event tonight, W. Kenneth Bonds, chairman of the board of directors, observes:

"Although he (Henry) has shocked me a time or two, he as consistently been right with his major proposals for our growth."

Bonds goes on to cite a partial list of Henry's major achievements. These include the Burn Center, the Cancer Center of the Southwest and the Oklahoma Heart Center, all now part of this 577-bed hospital. In all these matters, says Bonds, Henry has "demonstrated his exceptional vision and remarkable sense of timing."

Henry came to Baptist as an administrative assistant in October 1958 and was elevated to the top leadership position in March 1960. Baptist, then a relative newcomer on the block, had 188 beds.

But the underpinnings for major shifts in health policy and the birth of new technologically-oriented industry even then was under construction.

"In the mid-1950s, we were the first all new hospital in the community," Henry recalls. "The facilities we introduced were modern in every respect."

"We were in the midst of an expansion era in hospital care, which had started with the Hill-Burton Act (providing federal funds for hospital construction across the contry) in 1946."

Oklahoma City at that time had Wesley Hospital, the forerunner of today's Presbyterian, and it had St. Anthony, Mercy, Doctors General and University.

As demands intensified, South Community Hospital also was given life. Oklahoma's Baptists, sensing the need for a new and modern facility, responded.

As Henry put it: "They saw it as part of their mission."

One of the earliest pivotal decisions made by Henry came in 1961 when Baptist Medical Center was encouraged to expand - "even though we were running at about 50-60 percent occupancy."

What Henry and others saw was a need for physicians to relocate offices in the northwest section of the city.

"We proceeded to develop plans and staged a fund-raising campaign," said Henry.

Deeply involved were the late Sen. Robert S. Kerr, Edward L. Gaylord and Stanley Draper.

"Well, it was a highly successful campaign," Henry said. "We doubled the number of beds."

During a single weekend at his ranch, Kerr raised $850,000 by tapping only eight individuals.

And physicians did indeed start moving to the northwest section of the city.

The 188-bed community hospital now had 376 beds and no more than 50 percent occupancy rates.

"We had patients in the halls," admits Henry.

He insists that a key figure in Baptist's evolutionary development was Dr. Henry G. Bennett Jr. …