Retiring health care exec
Roger Drue reflects on his
career and his industry

About 25 years ago, Roger Drue and his wife Margi were discussing their future.

"People don't like their institutions to change. It's understandable." ---Roger Drue, Hawaii Pacific Health

The couple decided if Margi went back to work after their three children were older, they would retire early.

Last year, the first half of the Drues' plan came to fruition when Margi retired after spending the last 10 years of her 20-year career as chief executive officer at Kahi Mohala Behavioral Health.

In July, her husband, now 60 and president and chief executive of Hawaii Pacific Health, will join her.

"For many years, we were like ships passing in the night," said Drue of the busy careers that took he and his wife to a number of health care institutions on the mainland before coming to Hawaii more than a decade ago.

Drue came to Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children when much of the health care industry on the mainland was in turmoil, facing diminishing reimbursements and rife with closures, mergers and acquisitions. He'd already been part of several mergers in California.

While things never got quite that bad in Honolulu, some of the basic problems -- such as diminishing reimbursements -- were here and having a growing effect on local health care, Drue said.

"We had better coverage for most people, we were ahead of them and taking care of our citizens better than many places, so there was not much of a need for a shake-up. But it's one thing to discount by 20 percent -- it used to be every dollar returned 95 cents -- now the return on that dollar is 45 cents," he said.

Fresh from his mainland experiences, Drue spearheaded what was -- for Honolulu's tight little health care community -- a controversial move, recalls Gary Kajiwara, chief executive officer of Kuakini Health Systems.

"I think he was able to make hard decisions. That comes with the territory, but it's not always easy," he said.

In December 2001, Drue finalized the merger of the Kapiolani medical centers on Punahou Street and at Pali Momi with Straub Clinic and Hospital, Kauai's Wilcox Hospital and Kauai Medical Group. That brought together more than 5,000 employees and nearly 2,000 affiliated or employed physicians.

The move was not without pain or criticism.

"People don't like their institutions to change. It's understandable. Many people, including nurses and doctors, have spent their whole careers there. There's the blending of cultures which has to be done with kid gloves. We learned a few things, things to do right and things to avoid," he said.

Kajiwara said he has enjoyed working with Drue over the years on various joint ventures.

"What I've observed during board meetings is that he's always a very positive, very professional and tactful individual. He's always been a good facilitator," Kajiwara said.

Drue pointed to initially uncomfortable health care marriages in Hawaii before his time that worked out despite initial criticism.

"We tend to think such things are unique to now, but in fact, it hasn't been exactly a cakewalk in the past. When Kapiolani Hospital and Kauikeolani Children's Hospital came together in the 1970s, there were separate entrances for the pediatricians on Bingham Street and the obstetricians on Punahou," he said.

He also pointed to the purchase and merger of Pali Momi with Kapiolani in the early 1980s.

"Pali Momi was a general hospital, and with the kid's hospital, can you imagine the cultural differences? But today it's really successful," he said.

In such an event, Drue said he has learned that, at least for awhile, it can be difficult to accomplish much.

"I have a two-year rule -- for the first two years, you can't get a lot done. There has to be a new culture, not blending others into a dominant culture. In fact, it's a lot like blending families," he said.

Bringing existing health care institutions together through mergers, affiliations or joint ventures is something that will continue, Drue said.

And he predicts health care in the coming years is in for another major shake-up with the coming of highly automated services such as electronic medical records.

"Health care has been a cottage industry, a paper shuffle. Right now, it's analog, but it will become digitalized," he said.

The more than 35 years working in health care has gone by fast, according to Drue.

Starting out as an administrative resident at Presbyterian St. Luke's Hospital in Chicago, Drew then spent four years working in health care management as a captain in the Army. He also served time in Vietnam.

When he came back from Vietnam, his first project, working for the U.S. Surgeon General, was to build a 400-bed hospital at Fort Ord, Calif.

Some of his formative years were spent working for his mentor, Don Carner, at Memorial Hospital Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif. Carner understood, even then, that hospitals would need to be run as a business in order to survive, Drue said.

But a major reason for choosing health care administration as a career goes back to a more personal experience.

"When I was in college and graduate school, my dad was sick with leukemia. I would go to visit him but could never figure out why the staff was always so rude," he said.

And there was one particular issue during that time that eventually pointed him toward health care administration as a career.

"I could never get my parking validated," he said.

"My dad had gone there for years and had probably spent tens of thousands of dollars, yet they wouldn't even validate parking. So when I went to grad school, I looked down the list of majors and saw hospital administration, that's what I picked," he said.

Now, all the planning and the hard work has paid off for Roger and Margi Drue and they are ready to embark on a new life together.

"Our three kids have graduated from college, we now have one granddaughter and we're told many more are being planned," he said.

The couple will divide their time between a house they are building in Santa Barbara,Calif., a home they own at Lake Tahoe, Calif., and a condominium they will purchase here when they sell their current home.

Drue recalls when he and Margi made their decision all those years ago, they also committed it to paper. He found that paper again last week tucked away in a file.

"There were four things we listed: We've got to stick together, save appropriately and conservatively, savor our children and stick to the plan," he said.

The Drues stuck to their plan.

Looking back on his life and career, Drue said he is satisfied and looking forward to retirement. He and Margi plan to travel and pursue their favorite outdoor activities -- and spend a lot more time with their family.

"I think we are leaving for very much the right reasons. Hawaii Pacific Health has done extraordinarily well. We're right on target, we're moving forward. It's a perfect time.

"I personally believe that it's healthy for an organization to have a new CEO every 10 to 15 years. You get new thoughts and ideas," he said.


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