Winter 2001
Cover Story
Alma Matters
Riff Ram
Purple Heart
Class Notes
Back Issues

TCU Magazine "AlumNews"

Just what the doctors ordered

For five TCU grads, inexperience and blind ambition became a potent prescription for a lasting legacy.

By Rachel Stowe Master '91

Though it's hard to believe there's room for any naivete among a half-dozen physicians -- five of whom are TCU grads, no less -- the word often comes up when Drs. Martha J. Chapman '50, Robert E. Chapman '50, Bruce K. Jacobson '50, David J. Pillow Sr. '49 and Charles A. Rush Jr. '49 talk about founding Glenview Hospital in North Richland Hills 40 years ago.

They weren't thinking then of building legacies. They were simply trying to shorten their commute.

"Sometimes we'd have patients in four different hospitals and our office was out here -- about 12 to 15 miles away from downtown Fort Worth," Jacobson said. In addition to morning and evening rounds, the doctors were often called back downtown during the day for patients in labor. "So we were spending a lot of time in our cars."

The group politicked for the community to build a small general hospital. But no one was interested. "Hospitals usually operated in the red and they didn't want to extend themselves out and try to build a hospital," Jacobson said. "So we decided we could do it. We thought."

BUILDING A HOSPITAL wasn't the first challenge the group endured together. The Chapmans (who married just before becoming Horned Frogs), Jacobson, Pillow and Rush all completed their pre-med undergraduate work at TCU.

"Drs. Pillow, Jacobson and I worked together, studied together, played together -- and tried to make good grades together," Rush recalled. Pillow and Rush were a year ahead of Jacobson at TCU, but all three worked for Dr. May Owen at All Saints Hospital.

The three didn't become well-acquainted with the Chapmans until after med school. Pillow attended George Washington University, Rush and Jacobson both went to Baylor, and the Chapmans were the first to be accepted as a "couple" at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. "It kind of made us feel uncomfortable that they were going to see how we did. There wasn't any pressure on us," Bob Chapman said with a laugh.

The five hooked up again at John Peter Smith Hospital when Jacobson and the Chapmans were interns and Pillow and Rush were residents.

Pillow and Rush went into practice together in North Richland Hills, and Jacobson joined them a year later. The Chapmans opened their own practice, first in Nocona and soon back in Tarrant County.

The five became acquainted with Dr. John Jermyn, another local family practice physician, when they began lobbying for a community hospital.

"We actually tried to get several of the municipalities in the area to build a hospital," Bob Chapman recalled. "They had just formed the district for JPS, and none of them thought they could form another taxing district. After a couple of years no one seemed interested, so the six of us got together and decided to try to get funding together to build one."

"We really didn't want to own a hospital," Rush said. "We just wanted one to practice in, but the only way to get it was to build it ourselves."

In the early '60s, doctors building hospitals wasn't uncommon.

"In a lot of small towns, individual doctors would build small hospitals," Pillow noted. "So in that sense it wasn't unusual, but we were building a full-scale hospital."

The biggest challenge: financing.

"It takes money to run a hospital, and we didn't have any money," Jacobson said.

"We opened with nothing but debt," Pillow said.

The doctors bought a 5.4-acre tract of land on credit. A Houston firm agreed to build the hospital and lease it back.

"We had to put up the money for it, which amounted to each of us having a $120,000 life insurance policy on us," Bob Chapman said.

Rush remembers the insurance representative talking about what amounted to an almost million-dollar policy to guarantee the loan. The representative told the six doctors that in 10 years, one of them wouldn't be there. The doctors didn't believe him, but just a few years later, Jermyn died of a viral infection of the heart muscle.

Once the building was up, money was still needed for equipment. A large medical supply company finally agreed to equip the hospital -- again on credit. The last of the equipment came in about two days before the opening.

Staffing was an ongoing concern.

"We had a $100,000-a-month payroll, and we worried every month whether or not we could meet it," Rush said. "We had to get some source of financial stability. The president of the Bank of Commerce gave us a line of credit, and from then on we felt safe -- at least then we knew we could meet payroll."

Of course everything that came out of the hospital went right back into it.

"Running a hospital was kind of month by month," Pillow said. "Prices were a lot different back then. Whatever we got, we paid out at the end of the month. Back in the earlier days, physicians owning a hospital didn't take anything out of it. It was just a place to work."

There were also concerns of supply and demand.

"The other thing, I think, is not knowing whether our patients would be willing to use a community hospital that we built," Jacobson said. "Would our patients feel safe there or would they still demand going to the larger downtown hospitals? It turned out not to be a problem, but we didn't know."

Quite the contrary.

"The early success of it was running at 60 percent capacity at the first two weeks and 80 percent at the first month," Bob Chapman said. "That's considered break-even. When it hit the ground it was running and going and never looked back. It was soon obvious 50 beds were not enough. I can still remember having beds in the hallway at even 100 beds. There were no freeways out here and no one liked to drive to downtown Fort Worth."

Martha Chapman performed the first surgery the night before the hospital officially opened.

"We had a young man who had appendicitis, and I thought it would be a shame to take him downtown when we had the facility ready," she said.

When it opened in 1961, the 20,000-square-foot facility offered complete X-ray and laboratory facilities, a 24-hour emergency room, and TVs and phones in patient rooms. Room rates were $7.50 a day. Glenview's 15 doctors, 70 nurses and technicians, and 42 volunteers treated more than 5,100 in-house patients, served more than 3,000 ER cases and delivered 494 babies (including two sets of twins).

Only a year after opening, Glenview received a full three-year accreditation by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals. And it became the first Fort Worth/Dallas hospital with its own heliport. "Even before Harris had one," Bob Chapman said, noting that Bell Helicopter used it to bring injured workers from its factory. "After we got a little bigger, we could get helicopter service to downtown."

Bob Chapman served as Glenview Hospital's first chief of staff. "I was railroaded into it," he quipped.

"I'm not sure, but I just think everyone came to that conclusion at the very beginning so it just worked out that way," added Martha Chapman, who later became the hospital's only female chief of staff.

"Each one of us served our turn as chief of staff," Rush said. "There was one a year. And there were lots of other jobs too. We had all the amenities of a big hospital, and we ran it very strictly. And I think that's why it was such a success."

The founders agree that they were very fortunate to land a retiring Air Force lieutenant colonel as hospital administrator. William Cotner served as Glenview's administrator from 1961 to 1981.

"I'm sure that was a gamble for him," Jacobson said. "We didn't have any money, but we had a dream. He managed the hospital on a day-by-day basis so we didn't have to get into hospital management. Our business was to practice medicine."

The doctors bought the hospital from the leasing firm after a couple of years. In 1969 they sold the hospital to a California company.

"Our little hospital, after we developed it and got into it, really wasn't big enough to handle the growth rate of this part of town," Pillow said, explaining that selling it to a larger entity would pave the way for additional expansions. "And it was a lot easier to take the liability of the hospital off our back.

" But the doctors weren't finished just yet. A few years later, Glenview's buyer was purchased and wanted out of the hospital business. "Then 26 of us went together and bought it," Bob Chapman said. The group included the Chapmans, Pillow and Rush.

The doctors sold again in 1977.

"We found out it wasn't too bad when you had six doctors to get together, but when you had 26, it was almost impossible," Martha Chapman said.

Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) bought the facility in 1981. In a multimillion-dollar expansion in 1983, HCA renamed, rebuilt and relocated the hospital within a mile of the original facility.

FORTY YEARS after the opening of Glenview Hospital, the 200,000-square-foot, 144-bed North Hills Hospital is North Richland Hills' largest employer, with some 430 medical staff members, 730 employees and 120 volunteers, officials report. The hospital is on track this year for 44,000 admissions and outpatient procedures, more than 35,700 ER visits and 1,000-plus babies. Its 2000 community financial benefit -- sponsorships, taxes, salaries, charity care -- totaled a whopping $145 million. And change.

"We never dreamed it would work into what it is at present," Bob Chapman said. "Our wildest dreams were not even close to that."

Despite the success -- during times when the industry has seen many medical giants fall to their knees -- the founders remain modest about their contributions.

"We worked long hours, from early morning until late at night. But I don't think I could do that anymore," said Rush, who turned 79 in October and still works three mornings a week. (He's also the official physician of the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo.) "It took a lot of hard work on a lot of people's part, and the doctors were just the catalyst for it. The people were behind it, and for that we thank them all -- and we're glad they're having their 40th year celebration."

"You think about doing things one day at a time," Jacobson said. "You look ahead, but you don't look back much. I really never thought of it as a great visionary thing that came true. We just worked -- and it happened. It was a thought, there was action and then it happened, and that's the way it went. We were working awful hard back in those days."

In hindsight, is there anything these TCU grads would have done differently?

"Not really," Pillow said. "We were young and broke and naive, and we wanted a place to practice good medicine out here and take care of our local citizens. We weren't smart enough to know we couldn't do that. It's kind of nice, but when you don't have anything, you can't lose anything.

"The risk was not that big of a deal when you think about it that way."

Rachel Stowe Master '91 and husband Kevin '91 (MBA) live in Northeast Tarrant County with their two sons.