It was 1974 and a young Frank Sacco had just gotten out of the Army where he had served as a medical service corps officer. He was in a management training program with a subsidiary of Burger King, but “I had gotten the healthcare bug,’’ so he took a pay cut and accepted a low-level job at Memorial Hospital in Hollywood.
On Feb. 29, Sacco will retire after nearly 42 years with the Memorial Healthcare System (the South Broward Hospital District), the past 28 years as chief executive officer, during which time he grew the system from one hospital in Hollywood to six covering the southern part of Broward County — the nation’s third-largest public healthcare system. His accomplishment came as, he said, emphasizing “a culture of patient/family centered care.’’
In retirement, he has plenty to look forward to. His daughter is about to give birth to his first grandchild, a boy. His son is going to be married in April, and he plans to get a puppy. “I’m a dog lover and I haven’t had one for 12, 13 years — haven’t had the time.’’
In an interview with the Miami Herald at his office in Hollywood, Sacco discussed the many high points of his career with the hospital system — including developing a strategy to diversify the patient base in order to be able to care for low-income patients while still cutting the district’s tax rate to almost zero and also convincing baseball immortal Joe DiMaggio to lend his name to a children’s hospital.
Below is a partial transcript of that conversation:
About 1977, I became the risk manager in addition to everything else and ran the self-insurance fund. By 1978, I was assistant administrator of the hospital, one of five. But then in 1982, I became the only senior associate administrator. And then in 1985, chief operating officer of the hospital. We were still only one hospital. Then in 1987, my predecessor, who had been here for 20 years, passed away. He was terminal and he had groomed me to take his place. So 13 years after starting as assistant director of housekeeping I took over as administrator and CEO of the hospital.
A. Developing a culture of patient/family-centered care and putting the patient first in everything, all the decisions we make.
Then when we looked at the regional hospital [the former Hollywood Memorial] — it was getting older and poorer around us. That’s why we decided to go out to the suburbs and start Memorial Hospital West to have a better pay mix. Memorial Hospital Miramar and Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital were also part of the strategy because Broward and Palm Beach counties didn’t really have a children’s hospital and we wanted to be the first. In a remarkably short period of time of 23 years, we went from a couple of [pediatric] units on the floor of a hospital to its own building. And we’re the only ones doing a significant amount of heart transplants in the entire region. Our strategy really was to bring in all these services, bring in some high-end physicians and bring in paying patients and keep those patients through our patient-centric care. That’s helped us be profitable. It’s going to hurt when we lose the Low Income Pool, but we’ll still be viable.
I and our pediatric chief of surgery went to meet with [DiMaggio]. He said, “What do you want from me?’’ I said, “I just want your name. I’m not going to ask for any money and I’m not going to give you any money for it, and you can get involved as much as you would like.’’ And we brought him out and showed him our unit, and showed him our plan. And from the first meeting we had with him to when we had an agreement, it was only three weeks.
He and I hit it off. I told him my father used to say that Joe DiMaggio was the greatest baseball player of all time. And DiMaggio winked at me and said, “All the Italians used to feel that way.’’
[DiMaggio cut the ribbon at the opening of Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in September 1992.]
Q. I understand that another of your main interests was establishing pet therapy throughout the hospital.
Q. I saw a video made by a couple of the doctors at the children’s hospital. They were saying they couldn’t imagine you retired.
A. It gets pretty congested down here. Also I have a cabin in the mountains of North Georgia near North Carolina, and this will cut down the commute by about three hours.
Q. We had a terrible tragedy recently, the death, apparently by suicide, of Dr. Nabil El Sanadi, your counterpart in North Broward. What do you believe will be his legacy?
A. I think the preponderance of his legacy will be as a healer, as a physician, as an ER physician. I think he had a really long career and an impact as a healer.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Memorial Healthcare System. Also, an earlier version incorrectly said that Florida has not expanded Medicare. That should have said ‘Medicaid.’
Current position: CEO, Memorial Health System (South Broward Hospital District).
Personal: Born in Akron Ohio; age 68. Divorced; has two children.
Education/experience: Sacco attended Palmetto High School, then-Miami-Dade Community College, and the University of Miami, graduating from UM with a sociology degree in 1969. He became interested in hospital administration while in the Army Medical Services Corps, 1970-73. In 1974, he returned to South Florida and became assistant director of housekeeping at Memorial Regional Hospital. He received a master’s in hospital administration from Florida International University, moved into administration and became president and CEO of Memorial Healthcare in 1987.
Honors: In 2012, Sacco was named Humanitarian of the Year by the American Red Cross South Florida region. He was also given the key to the city of Hollywood that year.
Boards, memberships: Fellow and past regent, American College of Healthcare Executives; past chairman, Florida Hospital Association; past chairman, Association of Community Hospitals and Health Systems of Florida Inc.; board member, Broward County Health Planning & Development Council; past chairman, board member, Hollywood Business Council; board member, former chairman, Coordinating Council of Broward.
Hobbies: Cycling in Florida and hiking in the mountains. He also collects baseball memorabilia: In his office, in addition to Joe DiMaggio-related items, he has a signed Sandy Koufax jersey, a replica of Ebbets Field signed by Duke Snider and a picture of Ted Williams hitting a home run at an All-Star game.
SOURCE: FRANK SACCO, SUN SENTINEL