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A Tribute to Austin Ross

The selection of Austin Ross for the Modern Healthcare Hall of Fame is fitting. His ideas on leading and managing in health care – which he’s written about extensively in books and articles dating back to 1959 – laid the foundation for successful health care administration nationwide.  His leadership has guided me and countless other health care leaders and administrators across the country.

Virginia Mason was privileged to benefit from Austin’s expertise for most of his 36 year career. He came to what was then Virginia Mason Hospital and Clinic in Seattle as an administrative resident in 1955 after completing his MPH degree from the University of California, Berkeley. By 1968 he was the hospital administrator and in 1977 he became executive administrator, a position he held until his retirement in 1991. Austin’s leadership is credited with putting Virginia Mason in the national spotlight as a foremost example of how to integrate a multi-specialty group practice with a hospital.

In 1977 and in conjunction with his work at Virginia Mason, Austin became a clinical professor at the Department of Health Services at the University of Washington. During this time, he authored “Ambulatory Care Management,” the leading textbook on management of ambulatory care services, and several significant books on health care leadership.  He continued his work at the university following his retirement from Virginia Mason. After his retirement from the University, an endowed professorship was created in his name to honor him.

Austin’s involvement in professional associations was also extensive. Throughout his career, he has been involved in the Accrediting Commission on Education for Health Services Administration, the American College of Hospital Administrators and Medical Group Administrators, American Hospital Association, Medical Group Management Association, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to name a few. In 1983 he was honored by the MGMA with the Harry Harwick Award and in 1989 he was the recipient of the American College of Healthcare Executives Gold Medal Award, thus being one of the only individuals to ever receive the highest awards from both the leading group practice and hospital associations.

Here in Seattle, Austin will forever be remembered as the man responsible for saving Bailey-Boushay House. In the early 1990’s, plans to open the country’s first facility designed and built to treat people living with HIV/AIDS were in jeopardy when the original clinical partner declined to open the facility. Using his leadership skills, courage and an unwavering quest to do the right thing, Austin convinced the people of Virginia Mason to open and run Bailey-Boushay House. No one at the time knew exactly what that meant, but they trusted his judgment and today, Bailey-Boushay House is a national model for chronic care management treating people living with HIV/AIDS and other life threatening illnesses.

Throughout his professional and academic career, Austin has influenced health care leaders across the country with his vision of ambulatory and vertically-integrated health care delivery systems. Personally, he has been a profound influence on me as a mentor, colleague and friend. The criteria for this award states that the “individual must have made a lasting contribution to the healthcare industry and/or the patients served by the healthcare industry.” I can tell you without a doubt, that the patients we care for at Virginia Mason today, whether they are in our hospital, clinics or Bailey-Boushay House, are better served because of the dedicated leadership provided to us by Austin during his 36-year tenure.  I know the same is true for patients across the United States and around the world.

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