New Chief at Hopkins

January 26, 1992

Not many years ago doctors were concerned only with curing people. No longer. Even a solo practitioner is managing a business. The head of a giant hospital complex is an executive whose peers are in the Fortune 500. Thus when the trustees of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System went looking for a new president, it was a search much like that of any other major conglomerate.

They found their man in Dr. James A. Block, a 51-year-old pediatrician who has spent about 10 of his 25 years as a doctor practicing medicine and the rest assuming progressively greater administrative responsibilities. For the past six years he has been president of University Hospitals and Health Systems in Cleveland.

Given the needs of the Hopkins medical complex in East Baltimore, Dr. Block looks like the right man to succeed Dr. Robert M. Heyssel, who has led the hospital and related facilities through two decades of growth, not without some pain, and a little retrenchment in a sour economy. The more medicine succeeds in curing, the more challenges seem to mount. Cost containment and concern for market share are watchwords along with quality care.

The Hopkins hospital is simultaneously a world-class research, teaching and treatment institution and the community medical facility for thousands of people who live in the blighted neighborhoods surrounding it. That creates a certain amount of tension inside and outside the institution, since these two roles are not entirely complementary. Dr. Block has a strong record in community medicine, and he is credited by colleagues with leaving behind a more livable neighborhood surrounding his hospital in Cleveland than the one he found six years ago.

The hospital's preeminence in the medical world is matched by its impact in Baltimore. As chief of one of the city's largest employers and its dominant medical facility, Dr. Block will be a major player in the community. The biomedical sciences are expected to become the city's best opportunity for economic development. That will require teamwork by groups that have not previously worked closely and some that have been competitive. Both as the new guy in town and the one with the most assets, Dr. Block can play the healer in a civic sense as well as the medical.

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