One year ago, THA was launching into the 2023 legislative session, ready to advocate for Texas hospitals with the pandemic receding further in the rearview mirror.
While we knew the months ahead would be challenging, the determination of conspiring forces to blame hospitals—once hailed as heroes amid the 2021 session for vaccinating Texans, managing multiple variants and saving lives —was disheartening to even veteran hospital advocacy experts.
The 2023 legislative session was a crucible of learning for Texas hospitals, crystallizing a pivotal insight: the 2024 interim session must break the mold of the past to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.
Brad Holland, president and CEO of Hendrick Health, was meant for such a time to lead the association. On Jan. 1, he officially took the reigns as the 2024 board chair.
Holland is a seasoned hospital administrator and former Division 1 college tennis athlete with a competitive spirit and a keen understanding of advocacy and public policy. He’s calling for an offensive strategy to combat the structural deficiencies of the current health care landscape, such as low government reimbursement, high cost of the uninsured and the ensuing negative hospital sentiment, and he expects other health care leaders to answer.
“I just have a lot of experience with understanding the value of advocacy,” Holland said. “And if you don’t advocate for your hospital or the health care industry, you might as well close your doors.”
His approach, characterized by strategic foresight and bold response, positions him as a formidable advocate in the complex health care policy and administration arena.
THA president/CEO John Hawkins says Texas hospitals are ready to refute the rampant misinformation perpetuated by “motivated adversaries” and believes Holland is the type of leader the industry needs. “As we head into the interim session, we are lucky to have an involved leader like Brad Holland, who understands the importance of proactive advocacy and the tenacity to rally our industry together,” Hawkins said.
Raised in the vibrant former frontier fort town of San Angelo, Holland recalls his journey to health care leadership as a serendipitous byproduct of the community of health care providers around him. An avid outdoorsman from youth, Holland spent his early years playing sports and enjoying the West Texas lifestyle while learning about the health care industry from family and friends.
He originally pursued an undergraduate degree in biology at Texas A&M while playing tennis and decided to pair it with a master’s degree in health care administration at Trinity University—to help him manage his future dental practice —before going on to dental school. The detour would turn out to be the destination, and Holland’s career path metamorphosed into a passion for merging the intricacies of health care with the strategic finesse of business leadership.
“I like to tell people I’ve found a way to blend my science knowledge and business acumen,” Holland said. “This blend fit my aptitudes over time.”
Early on, many great leaders influenced Holland’s professional ethos and appreciation for advocacy. During his healthcare administration residency at Hillcrest Healthcare System in Tulsa, Okla., Holland was mentored by then-CEO James Harvey, whom Holland credits for shaping his perception of what a hospital administrator should be like. A devoted hospital advocate, Harvey served two terms as the president of the Oklahoma Hospital Association in 1962 and 1964 and as a trustee of the American Hospital Association.
It didn’t take long for Holland to learn the value of hospital advocacy for himself. In his first administrative job out of residency, Holland worked on a legislative strategy to support his hospital in Tulsa through graduate medical education funding. Without it, the teaching hospital would’ve likely shut its doors.
Holland’s career now spans over two decades and also includes c-suite positions in Texas and Mississippi hospitals. No matter the hospital or state, Holland emphasizes the responsibility of CEOs to be involved in the legislative process, saying, “If you don’t advocate through your hospital association, you won’t get very far.”
In 2019, Holland became the fifth president/CEO at Hendrick Health, a faith-based, three-hospital system that serves 24 counties in the Texas Midwest communities of Abilene and Brownwood. The organization has a rich history written by exemplary health care leaders. Perhaps one of the most notable contributors was Earl M. Collier, the 35-year administrator at Hendrick Memorial Hospital and past president of THA, for whom THA named its annual Earl M. Collier Award for outstanding health care leadership.
During a 2018 news conference after his appointment, Holland remarked on the legacies and uniquely long tenure of previous Hendrick Health leaders, saying, “There have been four CEOs in 94 years. That’s like 23 and a half years for every CEO who ever worked…You have something here that is coveted for executives and health care administrators like me.”
The Mona Lisa of Leadership
Like any organization that has been open for nearly 100 years, Hendrick Health has faced years of prosperity and austerity, responding with steadfast devotion to its mission to deliver high-quality health care consistent with its faith.
In 1932, in the throes of the Great Depression, Thomas and Ida Hendrick, the eponymous benefactors of the hospital, made a significant financial contribution to pay off hospital debts and build a new wing. It turned out to be a strategic decision, as the Abilene population doubled in size only a couple of decades later. Under Holland’s leadership, that same spirit of charity and clairvoyance thrives within Hendrick Health.
In March 2020, Holland and his leadership team made a similar investment in the hospital’s future. At the time, Hendrick Health consisted of one hospital, Hendrick Medical Center. Holland and his leadership team made the strategic decision to double its size by buying two more hospitals, now Hendrick Medical Center South and Hendrick Medical Center Brownwood.
“I remember sitting around the table before we committed to closing on the transaction and talking with my team and basically said if we’re going to do this, we’re picking the most difficult and most uncertain time in our history to double down,” Holland recalled.
The transformative deal closed in October 2020, expanding the organization’s impact and capabilities to provide expert care for patients in the Texas Midwest during the pandemic and beyond. While building up hospitals and service lines is a tremendous feat, Holland takes the most pride in putting together the right leadership teams to facilitate growth.
“I told my board recently that my current org chart and my current administrative team that I work with is my Mona Lisa,” Holland said. “That’s my greatest achievement today – the team we put together to deliver high-quality health care.”
An Offensive Strategy
Decades of competitive tennis have primed Holland’s ability to think strategically and play the long game. Now he’s preparing Texas hospitals to serve an ace in 2025.
In 2023, health care costs became a point of contention within the regular session, with health insurers and legislators pointing fingers at hospitals for the high expenses. Hospitals spent 140 days pushing back on harmful bills, including bans on hospital outpatient payments, also known as “facility fees,” and multiple government rate-setting proposals.
While ultimately defeated, the misinformation and negative narratives derived from these bills hindered progress for hospitals and patients. In 2024, the hospital industry is working to restore the public’s understanding of hospitals’ essential role in the health care infrastructure. THA will call out the true drivers of health care costs, including underfunded government care and the high cost of the uninsured, and address the influence of profit-driven health insurers.
The challenge ahead calls to Holland, the CEO who made the brave bet to double the size of his health care organization at the beginning of a global, years-long pandemic. He’s now making a similar wager on Texas hospitals’ collective strength, saying, “We will be going into the 2025 legislative session asking for what we need, not simply advocating against cuts.”
During his five-year tenure as CEO, Holland built up Hendrick Health’s infrastructure and reputation as an anchor in the community. Describing his pre-pandemic leadership style as, “mostly contained within the four walls of the hospital,” Holland has embraced his influence, which has grown with the hospital and now extends to all THA members as he begins his term as the 2024 board chair.
“This is a professional opportunity to give back to the industry, but it’s also extremely humbling that my colleagues would elect me for this opportunity,” Holland said. “I want to represent them, and I want to represent the industry well. It’s a heavy obligation, but I am so excited about it.”
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