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Filling some big shoes: Dr. Jonathan Bates combines business and clinical perspectives as new CEO at Arkansas Children's Hospital.

DR. JONATHAN BATES is the first person on his father's side of the family not to have been born in Arkansas.

The 47-year-old hospital administrator has lived all over the country, including Arkansas for a brief time as a child. Later this month, he will be moving to Little Rock from Long Beach, Calif., to be the chief executive officer of Arkansas Children's Hospital.

He returns to his father's native state to replace Randall O'Donnell, who resigned last November to become CEO at Mercy Children's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.

O'Donnell, who stayed at ACH in a consulting role until early this year, left Bates big shoes to fill.

Under O'Donnell, the hospital grew from 87 beds and 350 employees in 1980 to 272 beds and 2,400 employees in 1992.

The hospital's annual budget jumped from $9 million to $150 million during the same period.

It is now the sixth largest children's hospital in the country.

"That's unusual for that much change to happen that fast," Bates says.

The growing reputation of Arkansas Children's Hospital is known at Memorial Miller Children's Hospital in Long Beach, where Bates has been an administrator for four years.

"What it means is this is not a rescue job," he says. "This is not a turnaround job. This is a keep-up-the-good-work job."

It's also a job that requires the CEO to wear many hats, O'Donnell says.

"You need to be able to combine a strong set of management skills along with a special measure of caring about the patients ... and also have the ability to dream about the future and bring it to reality," says O'Donnell, who first joined the ACH administrative staff in 1980.

Although O'Donnell says Arkansas Children's Hospital does not face any unique obstacles, it will meet several challenges along with the rest of the changing health care industry, particularly with the advent of national reform.

Also, the hospital is in the midst of a $28 million fund drive to renovate newly purchased research facilities.

With $10 million raised so far, part of the renovation has begun. Bates must oversee the rest.

Fund raising and cost controls do not worry Bates.

"I'm feeling pretty confident about those things," he says, explaining further that the Los Angeles market is extremely competitive and aggressive.

"I feel like I've been in a combat zone for a number of years."

Miller Children's Hospital is part of the Long Beach Memorial Hospital system.

"He's been able to work within that system and keep Children's identity as a separate entity," says Charles R. Fullerton, chairman of Miller Children's Hospital's board of trustees. "He's been very good in walking that line."

Fullerton also says Bates is astute at handling lean times.

"Jon has been able to handle reductions in staffing and yet keep the place on an even keel," he says.

Fullerton says the news about Bates' new position was not met with enthusiasm in Long Beach.

Not so in Arkansas.

"He has a vision like ours about providing quality care for the children in this state--all children," says Diane Mackey, president of the Arkansas Children's Hospital board.

"We want to take really good care of the children, but we need to do it with realizing that cost containment is important."

Bates was hired after a five-month search.

"It was just remarkable how well his training fit," Mackey says.

A Step Removed

A college-aged Jonathan Bates had plans to become a chemist. However, when he became involved with mountain rescue missions, Bates grew more interested in the treatment of injuries.

He liked the idea of using his brain to help people, and he realized he likely would never be out of a job.

Once he became a pediatrician, Bates had no intentions of working his way into hospital administration.

"I sort of backed into it," Bates says. "I also think of what I do as practicing medicine. It's a step removed."

He says if he can ensure a proficient system, he'll be helping many children.

Bates plans to focus on three areas immediately:

* learning what cost accounting is available at the hospital and making certain it is ready for managed care and health reforms coming from Washington, D.C.

* examining the management structure at the hospital.

He says he's worked in small hospitals where management could rendezvous in the lunch room to make decisions, but he's also experienced the protocol required in larger hospitals. He wants to see if a proper one is in place at Arkansas Children's Hospital, which has more than 2,300 employees.

* tackling problems outside of the hospital such as the high child-mortality rate in the state. Bates looks forward to working with the state Department of Health and other institutions on these problems.

Bates says he thinks of himself as bicultural with both a business and clinical perspective.

"You have to be much sharper on the business side than you used to be," Bates says. Although he has not had any formal business training, Bates says he's learned much from the "school of hard knocks."

Several top administrators at Arkansas Children's Hospital -- from the head of managed care to the chief financial officer to the computer analyst -- have gone to Children's Mercy Hospital with O'Donnell.

"The gaps that those people left were pretty good-sized," says Larry Woodard, president of the foundation at Arkansas Children's Hospital. "|But~ there's no panic, not anything like that at all."

Bates is not worried about the management at his new hospital. He says he has confidence in Woodard, who is known nationwide for his fund-raising abilities.

"With Larry still there, that really made me feel good," Bates says.

Bates' wife, Sally Everson-Bates, has a doctorate in nursing and is looking at various employment opportunities in Little Rock. They have one child, 11-year-old Samantha.

While Fullerton congratulates Arkansas Children's Hospital on its newest addition, he also sends a warning.

"We'll let him get his feet wet as a CEO there," Fullerton says.

But if Bates is needed to head the entire Memorial system in California in the future, Fullerton says, "We'll be after him again."
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:May 10, 1993
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