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Book chronicles MUSC's growth, transformation over the years

Mikie Hayes| hayesmi@musc.edu | August 29, 2017

Marion Woodbury, author of a soon–to–be released book about the growth of MUSC, reviews contracts in his UMA office. Woodbury served as MUSC’s vice president of finance and administration as well as the first CEO of UMA and then special assistant to former MUSC President Dr. Ray Greenberg.
Photo provided
Marion Woodbury dedicated his book to the thousands of employees who work hard every day to make MUSC a better institution. The book chronicles the contributions and sacrifices of many.

Money struggles, negative headlines, compensation disputes, angry protesters, waning state budgets, even hurricanes brewing in the Atlantic. While parallels may be drawn to MUSC 2017, this spate of challenges describes an MUSC of yesteryear - the “transformative” years that date from the 1960s until the early 21st century.

“Transformation: The Struggle to Build the Medical University of South Carolina into a World-Class Academic Medical Center” is an open, firsthand account of MUSC’s steep trajectory of growth, written by Marion Woodbury, vice president for finance and administration, and subsequently both University Medical Associates’ inaugural chief executive officer and special assistant to the president.

Marion Woodbury, author of a soon–to–be released book about the growth of MUSC, reviews contracts in his UMA office. Woodbury served as MUSC’s vice president of finance and administration as well as the first CEO of UMA and then special assistant to former MUSC President Dr. Ray Greenberg.  
Marion Woodbury, author of a soon–to–be released book about the growth of MUSC, reviews contracts in his UMA office. Woodbury served as MUSC’s vice president of finance and administration as well as the first CEO of UMA and then special assistant to former MUSC President Dr. Ray Greenberg. 

Interestingly, it was not his intention to draw comparisons. History, he said, is just cyclical.
“I didn’t set out to compare the institution of yesterday to today, but it would be predictable,” Woodbury explained. “It’s the natural course of an institution like this to periodically encounter these types of things. You have to make changes to adapt to what’s going on in the universe, or you will be negatively impacted by it.” Far from a cold, third-party recounting of dry facts unearthed in a library, Woodbury delves into history of which he was an integral part - warts and all. From the Civil Rights strike of 1969, a vice president’s life cut tragically short and the downfall of a leader to what ultimately became a tremendously bright future - and Woodbury was a central figure throughout.

Recognizing this unique breadth of knowledge and historical perspective, former interim president Marcus Newberry, M.D., and Distinguished University Professor Layton McCurdy, M.D., former dean of the College of Medicine, pressed Woodbury to write the book, he said.

But ultimately, it took some convincing and the right set of circumstances.

Woodbury left UMA in 2000 and moved to the president’s office to help get the new hospital, Ashley River Tower, financed and underway. Following his retirement from MUSC in 2004, he stayed involved with the institution and did consulting work for then-President Ray Greenberg on MUSC’s behalf in Columbia. He and his family then moved to Tryon, North Carolina.

The idea for the book continued whirling around in his mind. Still, he resisted.

When finally he sold his farm and cattle in 2014 and moved back to the Charleston area, tackling the book became his raison d’etre - along, that is, with seeing more of his grandchildren. He believed the stories that would weave together such a rich history would appeal to many whose lives, like his, have been devoted to MUSC.  

The book begins with a graduate straight out of the University of South Carolina who had just left the ranks of the IRS after two years, before beginning in early 1967 a nearly 40-year tenure at MUSC, three years into Dr. William McCord’s presidency. Once safely ensconced in his miniscule cubicle, he realized just how out of date MUSC’s systems were. He wondered if he had made a mistake. After about a week digging in, he was certain he had, he explained with a laugh.

When finances are a challenge, as they always were, he added, one tends to be right in the thick of things. It didn’t take long before he was a trusted and valued member of the inner circle of his president - a position he enjoyed with each subsequent administration.

In depth, Woodbury intimately describes the presidencies of Drs. McCord, William Knisely, James B. Edwards and Greenberg, and his close working, and in some cases personal relationships with each of them. “I had the closest relationship with JBE of any of them,” he admitted, referring to his friend Jim Edwards, former energy secretary under President Ronald Reagan and South Carolina governor, who died in 2014.

Each leader brought special gifts to the role, he said. “Leadership here has consistently changed to meet the needs of the institution. All of them have made a different but necessary and positive contribution to the development of the Medical University into a world-class institution.

“Dr. McCord greatly expanded the programs of the Medical University. When Jim Edwards came, we needed stability, and we needed clinical development in a big way.

Marion Woodbury, author of a soon–to–be released book about the growth of MUSC, reviews contracts in his UMA office. Woodbury served as MUSC’s vice president of finance and administration as well as the first CEO of UMA and then special assistant to former MUSC President Dr. Ray Greenberg.  
Marion Woodbury and his grandson enjoy time together on the tractor out in the fields on Woodbury’s farm in Tryon, North Carolina. 

He was able to fulfill that. He was followed by Ray Greenberg, and research became a very high priority. He accomplished that. He brought us name recognition in the area of research. Dave Cole [David J. Cole, M.D., current MUSC president] is a well–rounded individual who is highly qualified in the clinical area as well as the research area and is totally committed to the full development of both. All the presidents have felt a strong commitment to the teaching program and the development of the best graduates we could possibly have.”

While he retired before Cole’s presidency began, he follows him closely and mentions him in the book. In the 90s, their offices were side by side on the fourth floor of the Clinical Science Building.

“I knew him and always had great respect for him. When Dave came to work at the institution, I was housed in the surgery department - he occupied the office next to me. We spoke often and discussed what was happening at the time. Today, the Medical University is in very good hands. There are lots of challenges, but there are always lots of big challenges for a president of a medical university - no matter who he or she is. It’s just the nature of the beast.”

Personal legacy
When Woodbury points to his own legacy at MUSC, there are two particular areas that are a source of pride he won’t soon forget. Among them are the physical facilities that are still important today - buildings like Ashley River Tower and Rutledge Tower where he was involved from conception through completion.

“In my opinion,” he explained, “it’s not possible to have a first-class, widely recognized, high-quality institution without very good, high-quality facilities. A lot of people object to higher education facilities being as nice as they are - but that’s what attracts students, faculty, physicians, patients, and attention to the institution. A commitment to excellence involves physical space. You can’t have an excellent program and have inadequate, crowded, unattractive spaces.”

He also points to the time when he stumbled upon the concept of disproportionate share - a valuable discovery that resulted in billions of dollars to the institution. The year was 1990, and MUSC had just endured deep state budget cuts and was struggling for money.

“I had gone to some national meetings,” he said, “and caught wind that there was a new program to help hospitals that served a disproportionate share of uninsured and indigent patients.”

He made some calls and finally ended up with the right person at The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The representative provided confirmation that the program existed, as well as details to how to access it. To Woodbury, it sounded too good to be true. So he tested it. He transferred $1 million to the state Medicaid Fund and within a week he received $4 million back. The next week he sent $2 million and soon received $8 million in return. Twenty–seven years later, the program continues, although prospects for its continuation, according to Woodbury, are apparently in question.

“While it may not continue much longer, MUSC has benefitted to the tune of $1.3 billion net,” he said proudly.

His love for MUSC comes through in his book. Woodbury considers himself a lifelong supporter of MUSC and is committed to its continued excellence. He repeatedly expresses his confidence in the organization he feels is positioned to be a major national leader in health care.

“You see,” he explained, “this institution has been very good to me. I came here as a young man at 24 years of age and spent my whole career here, except for a very short time period with the federal government. I came from a very humble background, humble beginnings, and I was taken in to an institution like this and had the privilege of meeting a lot of very intelligent people. I also met some strange ones along the way that I learned a lot from,” he said laughing. I can’t imagine having a more exciting, interesting career than I had.”

Woodbury’s book will be released on September 1 and carried on campus in the Matthews Bookstore. Soon, he hopes, it will also be offered through Amazon. He priced it at $20 so employees would be able to purchase it. That’s important to him. He dedicated the book “to the thousands of employees who work hard every day to make MUSC a better institution.” And to him, those aren’t just words.

“I hope people will enjoy it and develop a sense that things don’t just happen and understand that what’s here came as a result of major contributions and sacrifices by a lot of people. There are still a lot of employees who remember these times and have a lot of interest. They remember these times - the difficult times as well as the good times.”

 

 
 
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