Dr. Morton I. Rapoport, who took over a financially troubled University of Maryland Hospital 20 years ago and oversaw its transformation into the thriving six-hospital University of Maryland Medical System, announced yesterday that he will retire as president and chief executive officer in June 2004.
"I think it's time," said Rapoport, 67.
When Rapoport took over what was then University Hospital in 1982, it was part of the University of Maryland and was running deficits of several million dollars a year.
He first transformed the institution into a separate and more enterprising nonprofit system, with its own board, then added institutions and more distinction.
All that came at a time when such academic medical centers were stressed as the growth of cost-conscious HMOs squeezed payments.
"Anyone who can not only survive, but thrive, in that environment has to be doing something special," said John M. Colmers, a longtime health regulator in Maryland who is now a program officer at the Milbank Memorial Fund, a New York foundation.
"Clearly, he is the force behind the success of the University of Maryland Medical System over the last couple of decades," said Ronald R. Peterson, chief executive of the Johns Hopkins Health System. "He has taken that institution to a different level."
Rapoport was also a "key actor" in redeveloping the west side of downtown around the university campus, said Peter G. Angelos, the Orioles majorityowner, who serves on the UMMS board.
"Mort often coaches people to keep their eye on the ball, and he's successfully done that for 20 years," said Calvin M. Pierson, president of the Maryland Hospital Association.
Rapoport said yesterday that he couldn't remember a time when he didn't want to become a doctor.
"I came from a family with a large number of physicians," he said, including uncles and cousins. The number has grown to 15, including his son, who is on the staff at the UMMS cancer center.
A Baltimore native, he grew up in Waverly and Forest Park, and graduated from City College. He attended the University of Maryland Medical School, which shares its campus with the hospital and other professional schools on the west side of downtown.
He was a resident at University Hospital, then completed his training in the Army, in which he served for seven years, most of it as a researcher in infectious diseases at Fort Detrick and Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Rapoport returned to the university in 1967 and has been there ever since, including a stint as an infectious-disease specialist in the early days of the hospital's pioneering Shock Trauma Center.
He became an associate dean of the medical school before taking over University Hospital.
Because "hospitals have to be run more like businesses," he worked from the beginning to turn the state-run hospital into a private, nonprofit institution, he said.
In 1984, when UMMS was created, it had patient revenue of $165 million, 3,000 employees and admitted 19,000 patients.
Beginning in the late 1980s, the system added three specialty hospitals, then two community hospitals, Maryland General and North Arundel. Now, the system has patient revenue of $1 billion, 10,000 employees and 59,000 admissions annually.
UMMS also has grown on its home campus during Rapoport's two decades at the helm. The main hospital has undergone $750 million in building and renovations, and has another $218 million in improvements under way.
Throughout, Rapoport has maintained a low-key leadership style.
John C. Erickson, chairman of the UMMS board and of Erickson Retirement Communities, described Rapoport as "a real consensus-builder."
Angelos called him "unassuming. He doesn't broadcast what he's done. But his first love and total commitment is to that medical system."
Rapoport said he had given more than two years' notice "to give our institution the opportunity to have an orderly transition in leadership."
Erickson said the board will form a committee, engage a consultant and begin a formal search by fall. In the world of academic medicine, he said, it can sometimes take a long time to get a new leader recruited and on the job.