Joel Gordon, principal at health care management firm Gordon Group, recalled starting General Care Corp. with the help of Charlie Martin, now chairman and CEO of Nashville-based Vanguard Health Systems. General Care Corp. was later bought by HCA Inc.One more call: The two were making the rounds in Alabama, trying to drum up support from physicians for the company, which later became the first public company to allow physician investors in an ownership position.
“It was pouring down rain and poor Charlie had called 30 doctors and nobody would talk to him,” Gordon said. “And I’m standing there with a bunch of dimes, saying, ‘Charlie, get back in the phone booth. Make one more call, and if they say no, I’ll go home.”
“Well, he got back in the phone booth and that guy agreed to see us and we ended up developing a hospital there.”
An unusual partnership: Martin was the “heath care expert” on the General Care Corp. start-up team, which initially set its sights on nursing homes, not hospitals. Martin was working under an 18-month contract at the Tennessee Hospital Association on a project to improve the quality of nursing homes when Gordon approached him.
General Care Corp. had a nursing home under construction on Patterson Street, and the architect was the designer of all of Holiday Inn’s motels nationwide, Martin said.
“I reviewed the plans and said, ‘Yeah, we’re good. But there are a couple of things here,'” Martin said. “You can remove the references to the kennel, the swimming pool and the great sign. So it got off to a little rugged start.”
Charlie Martin, Clayton McWhorter and Thomas Frist Jr.
Spin job: Martin and Clayton Associates Chairman Clayton McWhorter were working at HCA Inc. in the late 1980s when then-Chairman Thomas Frist Jr. asked them to come up with a report that showed what HCA would look like if it spun off some of its underperforming hospitals into a separate company.
To the surprise of Martin and McWhorter, Frist took the reports and turned them into reality, forming HealthTrust Inc. in 1997. McWhorter became chairman, president and CEO of HealthTrust and Martin became chief operating officer.
“They cast it as a bunch of dogs we spun out over there. It was the finest hospitals you’ve ever seen. They made out like bandits,” Frist said, drawing laughs from the crowd at the Country Music Hall of Fame. “They really did a nice job. They did a first-class job.”
HealthTrust later returned to the HCA fold, when then-Columbia/HCA purchased the company in 1995. But had McWhorter known while writing the report for Frist that it was actually going to happen, he joked that he likely would have selected some different hospitals.
“But I will say this, I think the most rewarding experience I’ve had in my career was having that opportunity,” McWhorter said.