During his four decades in health administration, Jon Vice has learned that the best way to get a hospital to perform is to help it get happy. The affable longtime president and CEO of Children’s Hospital and Health System of Wisconsin sums up his job this way: “I ask my staff to tell me what they need to do their jobs, and I get it for them.”
When that happens, “the doctors are happy because they get the resources they need to take care of their patients, and that makes the patients and their families happy,” Vice explains. “The doctors earn money, the hospital earns money, and that makes everybody happy!”
Vice, who grew up in Pleasant Grove, Alabama, almost finished a master’s degree in counseling before he decided to join the family business: health care. His aunt Lenora Richards was a nurse in UAB’s ophthalmology department, and his aunt Lena Cody served as the personnel director at UAB Hospital, where his mother once worked in the billing office. His uncle and two other aunts also worked in Birmingham hospitals.
Vice enrolled in the master’s degree program in hospital and health administration at UAB in the early 1970s and soon found his calling in pediatric care. “Of all the hospitals in the area, I was assigned to work at Children’s—and I liked it,” he recalls.
After filling various positions at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, Vice joined the staff of Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he rose through the ranks to become COO. When his boss was called to Birmingham in 1976 to handle a crisis, he asked Vice to go with him. Vice points out that by the time he left Birmingham for Wisconsin three years later, “they were starting construction on a new patient tower at Children’s Hospital—so I think we were pretty successful.”
Vice also successfully turned things around at Wisconsin Children’s Hospital, which was facing a financial crisis when he joined the administrative staff in 1979. He took the hospital from the brink of bankruptcy to a position as one of the nation’s top-rated children’s medical centers. Along the way, he became known affectionately as “Mr. Children’s Hospital.”
“In my opinion, much of the progress made in pediatric hospital administration during the past 37 years is rooted in ideas, concepts, and causes that Jon Vice has fostered and often outright advocated and campaigned for among his contemporaries in the field,” says Howard W. Houser, Ph.D., associate dean of UAB’s School of Health Professions, who was serving as the chair of the hospital and health administration program when Vice enrolled at UAB.
Vice actively participates in the Children’s Miracle Network, the National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions, and the UAB School of Health Professions Dean’s Advisory Board. He also serves as a preceptor for future health-care professionals from UAB and other schools. Vice’s example has clearly influenced his children: His son Jeff, who earned his master’s degree at UAB, is now on the administrative staff of Denver Children’s Hospital, and his daughter Jessica is currently a pediatric resident at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.
Even after so many years, Vice says that seeing young patients and their families and hearing about the challenges they face keeps him motivated. “I get tears in my eyes sometimes when I learn of their ordeals and some of the agonies,” he says, “but it’s inspiring to learn how they deal with adversity, and it makes me want to work that much harder to make things better for them.”