Community Columns

C.V. Allen: In praise of a good man

C.V. Allen
C.V. Allen Modesto Bee file

A good man died in Modesto the other day. Like all obituaries, Larry Robinson’s could not fully describe the man and what he did for Modesto over the years.

I first met Larry in the ’70s when, as president of the medical staff at Memorial Hospital (now Memorial Medical Center), I was dealing with a medical staff that was very unhappy with the hospital administration.

Multiple efforts to bridge the gap went nowhere.

Someone mentioned, “Go see Larry Robinson at the foundation. He might have interest.”

Although he ran the Memorial Hospital Foundation, he had no involvement in running the hospital – which was the place having the problems. I got a meeting with Larry during which I laid out the multiple complaints from physicians. He listened quietly and asked, “What do you suggest?”

Hesitantly I offered some suggestions.

When I had finished, he pulled open a desk drawer and gave me a folder. In it was a list of multiple problems, far more detailed than mine, and with it some fully thought-out and detailed plans to address them. “Like this?” he asked.

Shortly thereafter, Larry Robinson became the hospital’s CEO – without any experience in hospital administration – and over the following weeks and months the hospital’s performance began to improve.

Most of us would be lucky if we had two or three good ideas each year, and delighted if even one worked out. Larry had scores of ideas – most of them totally unworkable, something he would recognize quickly and abandon. But a few were ingenious, “out of the box” and very successful solutions to knotty problems.

His favorite word was “equity” – fairness to all. After each meeting he would send a summary to all attendants with his description of what had transpired. On occasions some corrections were in order, and those he accepted with grace.

At one time there was a state board called Regional Health Planning, which had to approve any hospital equipment expenses greater than $50,000, supposedly to avoid wasteful duplication. When CT scanners first appeared it was decided one would come to Modesto. The RHP board, filled with dedicated but naive local citizens, had to choose between two Modesto hospitals that had applied for the device.

After a good deal of arm-twisting and pressures, another hospital was awarded the area’s first CT scanner.

Larry was furious that a monopoly on this technology would be given to a for-profit entity over Memorial, a nonprofit institution. But Larry was doing his homework.

Without telling the Memorial board, his executive committee, the medical staff or even the physician radiology chief, Larry found and purchased for $49,900 a used, obsolete CT scanner – getting it in under the limit for expenditures. But Larry knew the expenditure limit did not apply to upgrading existing equipment. Once installed, the scanner was quickly upgraded to cutting-edge status.

The radiology chief (who had opposed Memorial’s application) asked, “Larry, what’s happening in my radiology department?”

“Oh, that’s your new scanner,”Larry said.

All communities and institutions have, at their beginnings, a few far-sighted visionaries with the courage and ability see things others do not and do things others cannot. Larry was one of those. We in Modesto are better off for it.

Allen is a semi-retired Modesto physican and community columnist. Reach him at columns@modbee.com.

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