Georgetown View sat down with St. David’s Georgetown CEO Hugh Brown to talk about the history of St. David’s Georgetown Hospital. We knew it would be some interesting history, but what was even more impressive is the impact and impression this globally-recognized organization really has on our city.
In 1917, a hospital was established in Georgetown to treat students at Southwestern University during the Spanish influenza epidemic.
In 1924, five doctors in Austin, who were all members of the St. David’s Episcopal Church, decided they needed another hospital in the region. The church provided them with a building with the stipulation that the hospital continue to bear the name as a faith-rooted, non-profit organization. Even today, the Rector of the church still has a seat on the board.
Fast forward to 1979, the physicians who founded the Georgetown hospital, Drs. Benold, Shepherd, and Gaddy donated some land and built a new hospital that continued to serve the Georgetown community as a not-for-profit entity.
By the 1990s, St. David’s Hospital in Austin had become the large facility that it is today and decided to combine resources with other for-profit entities to become St. Davids HealthCare. This new organization has three owners; St. David’s HealthCare, HCA HealthCare, and the St. David’s Foundation, the latter of which remains a not-for-profit organization.
All this business stuff leads to one of the best parts of the story.
Because St. David’s Foundation was a true non-profit, all that money had to go somewhere, so in 2006, St. David’s HealthCare purchased the Georgetown Hospital. The hospital had been built by the community, so the payment was used to fund the St. David’s Georgetown Health Foundation, which now has 1% ownership in the entire St. David’s HealthCare organization.
So what?... you ask. Well, when St. David’s HealthCare shows a profit, 1 percent of that revenue comes to the Georgetown Health Foundation. This is why the Georgetown Health Foundation, which provides so many things to our community—from wellness programs to urgent care centers—never has to have a charity gala, or even a bake sale, to raise money for programs that facilitate the wellness of everyone in Georgetown.
But wait, there’s more
Because St. David’s HealthCare has a slight majority ownership in that for-profit company, they pay taxes. CEO Hugh Brown said, “When David Morgan started as our City Manager, I set up a meeting and he expected that I would be asking the city for help. David was delighted when I told him that not only do we pay taxes, but we will never ask him for money. Plus, we are legally prohibited from giving our money back to the hospital, so we use it in the community.”
To do that, the Georgetown Health Foundation provides grants to healthcare and adjacent organizations. They provide things like dental screening vans to schools, funding for Lone Star Circle of Care, and other entities like the Caring Place to provide case managers for people in crisis.
The hospital made a great choice in Hugh Brown. Early in his life, he was an officer on a nuclear submarine and has always believed in causes greater than self. He would be a terrible contestant on “Undercover Boss” because he has performed nearly every non-physician job in a hospital, from registration clerk to CEO. He has streamlined processes and helped put St. David’s Georgetown on dozens of Top 100 lists across the state and the nation. His standards of hiring were even adopted by a health care group in Australia, so, “our small-town hospital is having a positive effect on the health care of people on the other side of the world.”
It’s about people
Hugh says, “What drives me is taking care of the people. We have great leadership in this community; [City Manager] David Morgan, [Superintendent] Dr. Fred Brent, [Fire Chief] John Sullivan, and [Police Chief] Wayne Nero. These are outstanding leaders who really get along well and I believe, like me, we could all maybe go to other, bigger places, but we all choose to be here. This time and place is the call in our lives.”
Aside from good leadership, St. David’s Georgetown is known for excellent care and caregivers. Hugh, who has been at St. David’s for 12 years, says many of the people on the staff were working there even before St. David’s came in. “You can’t create employees who care about their neighbors; you have to identify and nurture them. When I came in for my interview, I sat in a lawn chair. I saw that the hospital was truly independent and spent money on patients, not fancy things. That continues today, when we see a need, we find a way.”
One of those ways is the rehabilitation clinic they developed in 2019. The average stay for rehabilitation is 10-12 days, which Hugh says can be an extreme burden on a family. But they have streamlined and reconfigured space and resources to make that stay easier on families, which has created a demand for their facility, and they can’t even take all the patients who want to be there.
According to Hugh, there are many dynamics and external forces to consider as the leader of such an integral organization. “We are not just taking care of the sick, we are trying to help them not come here. And as you look at the landscape, how are we, as a nation, going to pay for this? With a dwindling number of doctors and nurses, our current system is not sustainable.
“On a positive note, I am pleased with the uptick in options. More and more things that used to be done in a hospital are being done elsewhere, or in a shorter amount of time, so our critical resources can be in reserve for the critical cases. The Georgetown hospital of the future will become even better at taking care of acutely ill patients, using the next technology, so we can keep people from having to travel for care. Right now, we have a focus on joint replacement, our number one procedure, because that is what the community needs.”
Fortunately for Georgetown, there are several urgent care facilities and outpatient clinics, which are not in competition with the hospital, but rather access points for less-intense care. “In the future,” Hugh says, “you will almost have to be ICU-level sick to come here because there are other means of appropriate care that will cost you less time, money and recovery.”
St. David’s is also investing in family practices and an adult medicine center on the west side of Georgetown, near HEB, which will be helpful for new residents on Medicare. These centers are staffed by doctors who originally worked at St. David’s Georgetown, so the level of care will be familiar and consistent.
Hugh and his staff are using the strength of their award-winning system to get things done in the most efficient and streamlined way. “As the populations grow, the national statistics will play out and we don’t want to do anything unless it’s going to be excellent.”