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Partnerships that Matter: What it Takes to Run a Hospital

James Staton (MHA ’67) was instrumental in the establishment of Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

By Debbie Selinsky — This article was originally published in the Team Fuqua alumni magazine.

January 26, 2012
James Staton
James Staton

When native Virginian and army veteran James Staton (MHA ’67) enrolled in Duke University’s new graduate program in hospital administration 46 years ago, he was motivated by exciting events in the industry. “Medicare had just been enacted in the social security act of 1965, and I knew that would cause a sea of change in financing and management,” Staton recalls. “Big things were underway, and I was interested in learning more about what it took to run a hospital.”

A major draw for Staton, who already held an accounting degree from the University of Virginia-Charlottesville, was the presence of Professor Ray E. Brown, who led the new Duke program, which, in pre-Fuqua days, was part of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. “The faculty was small, but Ray Brown was a major force in hospital administration. He’d served as president of both the American Hospital Association and the American College of Health Administrators and was basically ‘Mr. Hospital Administration.’ My classmates and I were the only students to have him as our professor both years of our program.”

Brown left Duke to teach at Harvard and to serve as the executive vice president for planning efforts that ultimately resulted in Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. Ultimately, Brown remained a mentor who informed Staton’s lengthy career.

After earning his Master's in Health Administration at Duke, Staton was hired by Richard Wittrup, a former student of Brown’s, to work on the planning and building of the new medical center for the University of Kentucky system. But Wittrup soon moved to Boston to join Brown in the plans to consolidate the city’s three separate hospitals. When Brown left that job to return to Chicago as CEO of Northwestern Medical Center, Wittrup succeeded him.

In 1970, Wittrup made his second offer to Staton. “He said, ‘Smart money says this thing will never go, but if you come on up here, having Harvard on your resume for a year won’t hurt. But don’t buy a house right away. At the end of the year, we’ll see how things go,’” Staton says. He served as a senior member of the administrative team that managed the merger of trustees, employees and medical staffs of three hospitals into one corporation with an annual operating budget in excess of $150 million and launched a new construction project (started in 1975) costing $95 million.

“The big thing was arranging the financing. There was a huge fundraising effort going on, which we nurtured with big events,” says Staton. “The other real challenge was sorting through the political issues and getting the organizations to relate to each other. The planning for the facility, which was one of the biggest projects in the country at that time, was a means to bring them together.”

“Slowly but surely,” the pieces and the partnerships came together, with Staton serving as CEO for Boston Hospital for Women for 2 ½ years before and 4 ½ years after the merger into Affiliated Hospitals Center, which would become the famed Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Wittrup, now retired, says he values his partnership and long association with Staton. “Brigham and Women’s is generally recognized as one of the world’s leading hospitals and the University of Kentucky hospital is also well regarded. Jim and I have had the good fortune of being able to work together in the development of both.”

In the summer of 1979, Staton accepted the prestigious post of director of operations at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he managed the process for preparation and designation of the hospital as a comprehensive trauma center (CTC). Mass General is also a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.

Before retiring in 2004, Staton’s 30-plus year career also included administrative stints at Boston’s University Hospital, St. Margaret’s Hospital for Women and Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry, and Women and Infants’ Hospital of Rhode island.

A senior consultant for the New England Healthcare assembly from 1987 to 1999, Staton says he especially enjoyed working for 10 years with the late Alex McMahon to organize the annual Duke Forum for senior health care and medical center administrators established by Brown, who died in 1974. Staton remains involved in charitable activities and organizations.

Oh—and he and his wife, Caroline, bought that house in Belmont, Mass., raised two children and now enjoy spending time with their five “delightful” grandchildren.