“If the hospital was to be supported by Mr. Ford and bear his name, it ought to be run differently than any other hospital.… The other hospitals to my mind were operated largely as a boarding house for the doctors’ patients. While they had members of their own staff, they were men who didn’t contribute actively toward the policy of the institution. It seemed the most prominent outside doctors were the ones who had the most to say in running the institution. That contributed largely to internal politics and things of that sort.
“I didn’t feel we ought to have that in any institution Mr. Ford had anything to do with.”
- Ernest Liebold, from the Benson Ford Research Center at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, and quoted in the book, “Henry Ford Health System: A 100 Year Legacy”
When Henry Ford took control of the stalled Detroit General Hospital project in 1914, his name was synonymous with innovation: mass production, the moving assembly line and the $5 work day at Ford Motor Company.
It’s no surprise that a hospital bearing his name would be rooted in new ideas, making it different from other hospitals of the time, even if some those innovative ideas – including a closed medical group and standardized patient fees – were initially met with sharp criticism in the medical community.
As would be expected, Mr. Ford strongly influenced the concept for the staff of Henry Ford Hospital, but he had no significant knowledge as where to find the physicians that were essential to fulfill his ideas.
That is where the influence of Johns Hopkins was so vital in the formative years of the hospital and had direct impact on the subsequent mission of the organization.
One must remember that in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many medical schools were apprenticeships with minimal formal curriculum and training. These medical schools were often privately owned by a few physicians and were merely two-year trade schools.
This was a time of “quacks” and “quackery,” which greatly affected the respect of the profession and the benefit that medicine could uniformly provide to the population.
The hallmark report on medical education, commissioned by the Carnegie and written by Dr. Abraham Flexner, was published in 1910. It called for a single method of medical education, scientifically based and several schools were noted as exceptions, including Michigan, Toronto, Case Western, Wake Forest, and most notably Johns Hopkins.
It was natural for Ford to look to Johns Hopkins for the best physicians to staff Henry Ford Hospital, especially after the hiring of Dr. Frank Sladen as the first physician in charge of the hospital.
This heritage also served to create the academic mission of Henry Ford Hospital, both in the area of education and research.
The First Hospital Staff
By 1914 Henry Ford had selected four medical staff administrators: Dr. John N.E. Brown, who served as superintendent; Harper Hospital’s Dr. Angus McLean, who covered surgery assisted by Dr. James Mead, chief surgeon of the Ford Motor Company, and Physician-In-Chief Dr. Sladen.
But it was up to Dr. Sladen to hire the best and brightest to work at the facility and join its closed medical practice.
His first hire: Dr. F. Janney Smith, as the head of cardio-respiratory diseases. By 1919, Dr. Smith established the hospital’s first inpatient unit for cardio-respiratory disease and brought some new technology, the electrocardiogram, to Henry Ford.
Dr. Smith was an interesting individual, a Georgian who played semi-pro baseball and was a cigarette smoker who refused to quit. With the hospital being smokeless per Mr. Ford’s direction, a natural conflict arose between Dr. Smith and the chief administrator, Ernest G. Liebold.
Drs. Smith and Sladen both loved baseball, and developed close relationships with Detroit Tiger players, including Hall-of-Famer Mickey Cochrane.
Dr. Roy McClure
In 1916, Dr. Roy D. McClure joined as the first Surgeon-In-Chief – after some initial resistance to an offer made Liebold. A fourth-generation physician, many surgeons who served their careers at Henry Ford Hospital trained under Dr. McClure.
During his 35-year tenure at the hospital, Dr. McClure gained international recognition for his skill as a surgeon, as well as for his dedication to research and teaching. He was a specialist in surgery of the thyroid and the breast.
Dr. McClure’s fiancé was an operating room nurse, and became the first nurse in charge of the ORs at Henry Ford. Their son, Douglas, went on to be a prominent marketing executive at Ford Motor, and from 1989 to 1996 served as Chair of the Henry Ford Health System Board of Trustees.
Dr. McClure spent his entire career at the hospital, leaving it for only six months during World War I when he served as the commanding officer of Evacuation Hospital Number 33 in France. He died in his sleep of cardiac failure at the age of 69, after a full work day.
Shortly after Dr. McClure’s arrival in 1916, young surgeons Dr. Charles H. Watt and Dr. John Ormond decided to join the staff at Henry Ford. Dr. Ormond became the surgeon-in-charge of the Urology Department.
Building the Closed Medical Group
Also among the first group of hospital physicians were Hopkins alumni Dr. Jean Paul Pratt and Dr. Ralph Major, who were charged with creating the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology and working in Metabolic Diseases, respectively.
Next, the hospital’s first pathologist: Dr. Russell Haden. Dr. Haden set up the hospital’s laboratories, noted as “an early commitment to medical research where all physicians on staff were expected to continue their education—a philosophy that Dr. Sladen had learned at Hopkins under his mentor, Sir William Osler.”
Dr. Haden went on to a prolific career, including time at the University of Kansas and the Cleveland Clinic, where he retired in 1949 as Head of the Department of Medicine. He also served as head of the national blood bank after his retirement.
At Henry Ford Hospital and Medical Group were have deep roots as an academic group practice.
What we are today is a result of this deep heritage.
- Rodengen, J. (2014). Henry Ford Health System: A 100 Year Legacy. Fort Lauderdale, FL. Write Stuff Enterprises, LLC.
- Henry Ford Health System. Roy D. McClure, M.D. (Website). Retrieved from http://www.henryford.com/body.cfm?id=47767
- Henry Ford Department of Medicine. History of Medicine (Website). Retrieved from http://www.henryford.com/body.cfm?id=58754