Richard Jelinek and John Griffith in New York City at Jelinek's 80th birthday celebration.
New Momentum for the Griffith Leadership Center
John Griffith influenced my family, my career, and the world I live in,' says Richard Jelinek (BSIE '61, MBA '62, PhD '64), whose recent gift to the Griffith Leadership Center (GLC) was motivated in large part by his affinity for his mentor and friend.
"My passion for John is rooted in what he's done for me and what he stands for. In addition to being our teacher, he became a mentor to dozens of us in the field and maintained contact with us throughout our careers, never losing interest and always available to discuss aspirations or concerns.
As you might expect from a mentee of John Griffith, Jelinek's support for the GLC and SPH stems from his broader vision for the field. "Health policy and management,' says Jelinek, "is becoming more important with time. Populations are growing, our medical needs becoming more complex. Public health takes into account every human system imaginable, from lifestyle and safety to water and food systems to energy, housing, and transportation. And you need great leaders to address those systems competently and successfully.'
Griffith was the leading voice of SPH's Master of Health Services Administration program for decades. The GLC embodies Griffith's legacy by connecting research, teaching, and practice in a variety of innovative ways. The story of Jelinek's gift to the Center is itself a tale of connections that begins, naturally, with Griffith and continues with Gail Warden, the Jelinek family, and many others.
John Griffith's passion for hospital operations began in his youth, watching his father run the Delaware Hospital, the largest hospital in the state at the time.
John Griffith's passion for hospital operations began in his youth, watching his father run the Delaware Hospital, the largest hospital in the state at the time. His father would tell him that good management was just as vital to effective medical care as were the skills and dedication of the medical staff. "I hold thousands of people's lives in my hands every day,' he would tell his son.
Griffith studied industrial engineering at Johns Hopkins in the early 1950s, focusing specifically on organization management. Griffith completed a health care-oriented MBA program at the University of Chicago in 1957, then began work in administration at Strong Memorial Hospital, the teaching hospital for the University of Rochester in upstate New York. In 1960 he moved to Michigan and began teaching at U-M's Business School, focusing on research and teaching about running acute care hospitals.
As a first-year student at Dartmouth in 1956, Gail Warden spent his evenings as an orderly in the student infirmary, which was attached to Mary Hitchcock Hospital. He eventually connected with Walter McNerney, founding director of U-M's Program in Hospital Administration, and later President of the Blue Cross-Blue Shield Association and a major contributor to Medicare program design. McNerney encouraged Warden to come to Michigan for graduate school. Warden's very first course as a graduate student was taught by Griffith, who was teaching his very first class as a U-M professor.
An ROTC participant at Dartmouth, Warden was assigned to the Medical Service Corps after graduate school. While awaiting the call to active duty, he worked at Blodgett Memorial Medical Center in Grand Rapids, first as a research fellow and then as its first director of medical education. He oversaw graduate medical programs and recruited new residents. Two years later, Warden's official service in the Army began, first with eight weeks of medical service school, then as an executive administrator at Fort Belvoir Hospital in Virginia.
In 1958, Richard Jelinek was beginning a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering at U-M. In his second year of the program, he took a class with Clyde Johnson in the College of Engineering on connecting industrial engineering with hospital systems management. While still a student, the university hospital hired him as an industrial engineer to assist with numerous staffing projects, further developing his interest in health management.
Jelinek finished his undergraduate work, began an MBA at U-M, and started hanging out with students and faculty in the Business School's hospital management program (now SPH's Master of Health Services Administration program) and volunteering around the office. He befriended John Griffith, who quickly recognized Jelinek's academic abilities and became his mentor and champion. When Jelinek received an unexpected call offering him a W.K. Kellogg Foundation doctoral fellowship in U-M's College of Engineering, he knew Griffith had something to do with it. Jelinek accepted the fellowship and as part of his doctoral work took classes in the hospital management program, including those taught by Griffith.
Warden, Jelinek, and other future industry leaders were frequent classmates in their management courses and developed close ties with one another. They were becoming deeply interested in the same thing—advancing the quality of medical systems management in the US.
Heading in the Same Direction
Griffith continued his study of hospital management, aided by research grants from the Kellogg Foundation to explore new methods of organizing acute care, including the emerging "intensive care units.' He helped Jelinek win faculty appointments in the U-M Schools of Business and Engineering and later assisted in moving Health Management and Policy (HMP) from the School of Business to SPH in 1967.
As Jelinek was beginning his teaching career at U-M, he saw the growing links between engineering systems and health management practices. Jelinek's dissertation, which developed methods of monitoring patient outcomes of nursing care in hospitals, was a landmark quantitative study on nursing unit management. He landed research grants to apply his systems engineering work in increasingly detailed ways to health care systems.
Warden's first job out of the Army was directing a unit-manager system at Presbyterian-St. Luke's Hospital in Chicago. The severe nursing shortage at the time had him thinking creatively about how to reorganize his staff to maximize resources and maintain quality of care. After just one year at Presbyterian-St. Luke's, Warden was selected as vice president of administration and administrator of the hospital.
Groups of Leaders
Griffith believes that organization problems are best solved by groups—that individuals, however talented, can accomplish only so much alone. For that reason, he always encouraged his students to stay connected to one another and to other leaders in the field. This lesson stayed with Warden and Jelinek and would shape their careers in profound ways.
In 1968 Jelinek secured tenured teaching positions in the Health Management Department and the College of Engineering. Jelinek's academic work had established the complete dynamics of what nurses do over the course of a shift, how they operate within a unit, and how each unit affects other units in the system. His methods allowed hospitals to determine much more precisely how many nurses they would need in each unit during each shift. These methods became the foundation for models still in use today.
Jelinek says he needed colleagues like Griffith and Warden and many others just as much as they needed his innovative systems.
Jelinek and Karl Bartscht, a colleague in the industrial engineering department, began offering formal summer courses for hospital administrators on the application of computers in hospital management. Academics were publishing more and more about the use of computers in health management, but the research was not gaining a foothold in practice. Griffith and Warden were aware of the many innovative models Jelinek and other academicians had developed and encouraged Jelinek to share these with hospital administrators and help them put them into practice.
In the late 1960s, Jelinek began contemplating the business side of his teaching and research. In 1969 he and Ron Gue, a peer in the field teaching at Southern Methodist University, cofounded the Medicus Systems Corporation, which provided integrated software for financial administrators and health care managers. Their products enabled clients to process clinical, operational, and financial data to better manage organizational performance and to optimize resources.
When Jelinek pitched Medicus to Presbyterian-St. Luke's, Warden had no hesitations about Jelinek's ability to transform the hospital's systems. Knowing Jelinek's academic work, Warden was also confident that Jelinek's company would evolve its products over time as the field changed, making this long-term investment decision even easier. Presbyterian-St. Luke's became Medicus's first customer for its management services program.
Warden was not the only former classmate Jelinek contacted. Jelinek solicited feedback from dozens of other health care managers around the country, many of whom he had met at Michigan. He was building a professional network of industry leaders—a human sounding board to help ensure that the management systems his company was engineering would actually work in the field.
"Good Old Industrial Engineering'
Griffith, Jelinek, and Warden were true pioneers. Of the thousands of large hospitals in the nation, in the 1960s only a handful were attempting major changes to their management systems. But these three and a few others were boldly committed to radical change. They knew that managing workloads and personnel systems properly would create significant system-wide efficiencies while maintaining or even improving quality of care.
Their boldness was rewarded not only with happy customers but with institutional survival stories and fulfilled missions. At Presbyterian St. Luke's, "Jelinek's good old industrial engineering,' as Warden says, transformed an organization and "made it financially viable and more competitive almost overnight.' Financial viability in turn allowed Presbyterian-St. Luke's, a large teaching hospital, to rededicate itself to its educational goals.
The analytic models and early computer programs provided by Medicus Systems Corporation and others were a valuable advance in acute care management. They helped hospitals make the transition to regulated payment systems while expanding clinical capabilities with intensive care units and advancing technology. The cost savings allowed teaching hospitals to preserve and expand their educational programs, allocate more resources for research projects, and take on more residents, interns, and fellows. "Looking back,' Griffith says, "these changes seem obvious and rudimentary. At the time, they brought new solutions to real problems. Many of today's tools can be traced back to those models.'
Connect the Dots and Make Sure They Can Talk
Jelinek says he needed colleagues like Griffith and Warden and many others just as much as they needed his innovative systems. Jelinek's research always accounted for the detailed work of content managers, letting their interactions inform the system's architecture. "If the dots can't talk to each other,' says Jelinek, "what's the point of connecting them?'
Jelinek attributes much of his success to his understanding of the human side of health care.
In the early 1980s, Jelinek took Mediflex—a spinoff of Medicus—public and has since taken several other companies public, including the original Medicus Systems Corporation. Jelinek attributes much of his success to his understanding of the human side of health care. He understood that problems he can solve on paper and in theory have to work for actual people. Connecting the dots in a large system is one thing. But when the dots are people discussing highly detailed and often life-saving patient information, content is critical.
Beyond Richard and Gail's ongoing work, the Jelinek and Warden families remain deeply engaged in health management. Richard's son Rick Jelinek and Gail's son Jay Warden are accomplished hospital executives. Richard's grandson (Rick's nephew) Kristoffer is currently a graduate student in HMP.
A "Simple' Formula
Good public health requires highly functioning relationships within systems and between people. This is why HMP sought out top students, stayed interested in their careers, and remained committed to the same curricular principles for decades—to produce great leaders who could change the world. "It's a simple formula,' Griffith says with a grin, "There is not a lot of complexity in my life.'
Simple or not, that formula anticipated one of public health's deepest needs today—collaborative leaders who prioritize the effective delivery of care over their own interests. The fluid and amorphous nature of public health demands the kinds of leaders SPH produces across all of its departments.
Griffith still offers advice and serves students and peers wherever he can. And he encourages them to help each other. "John's legacy,' says Jelinek, "is making health management and policy professionals as good and as connected as they could be so that public health services in this country were as good as they could be.'
Asked about his accomplishments, Griffith steers the conversation back to his students, "Richard's and Gail's successes and interests drove me. Richard was an excellent engineer, very solid technically—so the innovative systems he was creating naturally possessed a certain pragmatism and were viable right away in the real world. Gail's ability to work with various sectors and manage complex relationships is unparalleled.'
Formalizing the Griffith Legacy
The Griffith Leadership Center was launched in 2006 to institutionalize Griffith's legacy— to develop leaders who will transform health care by strengthening the connections among research, teaching, and practice. Warden served as founding chair of the GLC advisory board. "The Center was designed to formalize many of the things these three men, especially John Griffith, did informally for years at Michigan,' says Cathy Killaly, director of the GLC.
The GLC's initiatives bring students, faculty, and practitioners together in creative ways. HMP faculty can apply for funding to spend time immersed in the field, shadowing and learning from practitioners. They discover new practice-based teaching ideas and identify research projects of mutual interest with colleagues in the field.
At the GLC's biennial symposium, over 300 alumni, faculty, and students come together from across the country to learn from each other and forge strong connections. The partnerships formed at the symposium last well beyond the event. Through the GLC's online alumni forums, faculty are paired with alumni practitioners to address pressing public health issues, such as the opioid crisis and large scale policy changes to affordable health care.
Through the GLC's Leadership Fellows Program, students interact formally with top practitioners through guest lectures, workshops, and individual encounters, learning about the careers, ideas, and mistakes of leaders in the field. "Student access to these highly successful people,' says Killaly, "is part of the Michigan difference, and making the most of the incredible HMP alumni network takes it to another level.'
A Lifelong Attachment to Graduates
"The GLC's core idea,' says Griffith, "is rare in academia—the assumption that we will maintain a lifelong attachment to our graduates and will actively help you in your public health career well after commencement.' Griffith sees robust alumni networks as one of the most important parts of today's SPH curriculum.
Jelinek's recent gift ensures this commitment to connecting great leaders will continue well into the future. "Dr. Jelinek's gift establishes a sense of permanence for the Center,' says Killaly. "We can now move forward with achieving our goals for expanding the Center as the world of health care management and policy presents new challenges and opportunities.'
The Jelinek gift of $2 million is part of a larger $5 million campaign to endow the Griffith Leadership Center. Jelinek hopes his gift will inspire others to support the endowment campaign and to ensure that Griffith's legacy lives on.
A Margin of Excellence
"The GLC's ability to bridge the gap between academia and practice helps Michigan remain the place to get the most relevant education for today's public health challenges,' says Wayne Lerner, chair of the GLC advisory board and recently retired hospital executive. "SPH students learn from faculty who are top scholars and who have experience in the operational outcomes related to their research.'
The GLC board—a collaborative team of national leaders—meets several times a year, Lerner explains, and always takes time to meet with departmental leadership and faculty to reinforce the academia-practice relationship. "Philanthropy gives you a margin of excellence to execute ideas others can only dream of,' says Lerner, "dreams brought alive by gifts like that of Richard Jelinek.'
Lerner and Killaly are working on a long list of new ideas for continuing Griffith's singular focus on fostering engagement between students, faculty, practitioners, and—ultimately—patients.
"We are all connected to the human health care networks Griffith, Warden, Jelinek, McNerney, and many others have assembled,' says SPH Dean Martin Philbert. "John Griffith's students and their mentees form the core of today's health care leaders at all levels. The GLC's work serves this community and continues to identify and nurture new talent. We are grateful that John's remarkable legacy has inspired Dr. Jelinek's passion and generosity and hope that it will inspire others as well.'