Patient Champion

Celebrating the Career of IHA President Doug Leonard

Doug Leonard, left, and his successor, Brian Tabor

In June 2017, Doug Leonard will retire from the Indiana Hospital Association (IHA) after 10 years of service to the Association and a health care career spanning five decades. This is the story of his impact on health care in Indiana and his IHA legacy.


Leonard’s career in health care started in the print shop of the South Bend Medical Foundation’s laboratory. He was 18 years old, and he had no plans to attend college.

“My dad worked in a factory, but he died when I was eight,” Leonard says. “After that, my mom worked as a waitress. I didn’t know anyone who had gone to college.”

One day, two years into his print shop stint, his boss sent him out to the parking lot to pull weeds. “That was when I realized the job wasn’t going anywhere.”

Then, as would be the case a handful of times throughout his career, Leonard had a conversation that would change the course of his life. “The librarian that worked in the laboratory asked me if I’d ever thought about taking classes at IU South Bend.”

Leonard enrolled in college and continued working in the print shop. Shortly thereafter, he took a job at the St. Joe County Health Department, delivering and picking up lab tests. The flexibility of the position enabled him to finish his bachelor’s degree in management and administration—and to set his sights on the next stage of his career.

“I made appointments with area hospital assistant administrators,” Leonard says. “I wanted to find out what they did and what the career was like. One of them said, ‘It’s a career you can live on and live with. And it’s better than making corrugated boxes.’ Both of those things have proven to be true.”


During the final year of his master’s in health administration work at the IU School of Medicine, Leonard conducted his administrative residency at Bartholomew County Hospital under the mentorship of Robert Borczon. “On the first day, Mr. Borczon told me that mine would be a one-year experience, that there wouldn’t be a job waiting for me when I finished,” Leonard recalls. “I stayed there for 29 years.”

During his time at Bartholomew County Hospital—which became Columbus Regional Hospital in 1992—Leonard worked his way up to chief operating officer, a position he held for eight years before becoming president and CEO in 1997. “When I came in as president, the hospital had lost its stature in the community,” Leonard says. “I was repairing relationships, trying to drive up patient satisfaction and employee morale. There were a lot of challenges to address at once.”

In 1999, as Leonard and his team struggled to improve the quality of care and the culture at Columbus Regional Hospital, Leonard read “To Err is Human,” a report published by the Institute of Medicine on the state of medical errors in the U.S.

“It opened me up to the profound responsibility we have to patients: what we owe them and how we can deliver the best care to them,” Leonard says. “I learned from patient safety and satisfaction work to really start showing compassion to patients and inspiring organizational change. That really made me a zealot about how to deliver the best patient care. As we experimented with different things to move these scores, I realized we weren’t going to have patient satisfaction until we had employee satisfaction. And we wouldn’t have employee satisfaction until we focused on transparency and inclusion with doctors. Little by little, we started making progress and improving, and we got to the point where I knew that if we could be better, we must be better.”

Columbus Regional Hospital receives the 2007 AHA Quest for Quality Award.

And get better they did. During Leonard’s tenure as CEO, Columbus Regional Hospital became the first Magnet Hospital for Nursing in Indiana and was awarded the AHA Quest for Quality Prize.  Leonard was also asked to serve on the IHA Board of Directors, a post he held for four years.

Leonard’s leadership efforts caught the eye of then-IHA President Ken Stella, who took Leonard aside after a meeting to encourage him to apply to become the Association’s next president. “It was another one of those life-changing conversations,” Leonard says. “Ken and I are quite different. He fills the room with his voice and his demeanor. I said, ‘Ken, I’m not like you.’ And he said, ‘That’s not necessary.’”


“I’ve lived through every president IHA has had,” recalls John Render, co-founder of Hall Render, IHA’s law firm of choice since 1957. “They’ve each put their distinctive stamp on IHA. Doug Leonard did one of the most difficult things to do in professional life: He followed two very successful and beloved presidents in Ken Stella and Elton Tekolste. There are some members who expected that Doug might do things like Ken or Tek. But Doug did something important: He decided to do Doug Leonard.”

And that meant focusing on two areas that have come to define Leonard’s professional legacy at both Columbus Regional Hospital and IHA: patient safety and transparency. One of his first orders of business was to expand and maximize the impact the newly created Indiana Patient Safety Center (IPSC) could have on Indiana hospitals. “After 10 years, I feel like the IPSC has really come into its stride,” Leonard says.

IHA President Doug Leonard receives the IU Fairbanks School of Public Health Distinguished Alumni Award.

Over the last decade, the IPSC has spearheaded efforts to form 11 regional patient safety coalitions, which standardize approaches to care and align efforts statewide. In addition, the IPSC partnered with 116 Indiana hospitals to create the first Hospital Engagement Network, Coalition for Care. In the last five years alone, Coalition for Care has prevented more than 8,000 harms and saved Indiana hospitals more than $54 million.

Perhaps Leonard’s most significant accomplishment during his time at IHA involved the creation, and statewide acceptance of, a hospital assessment fee, which passed the Indiana General Assembly first in 2011 and again in 2013 as the House Enrolled Act. The money that hospitals raise by agreeing to tax themselves through the hospital assessment fee is matched by Medicaid funds.

“Without Doug Leonard’s devotion to transparency, he would have never gotten through a hospital assessment program,” says Render. “That was a difficult piece of legislation, but hospitals trusted Doug and his leadership, and it’s paid off. It’s permitted greater financial stability for Indiana hospitals, and it’s permitted insurance coverage for a couple hundred thousand or more Hoosiers through the funding of the Healthy Indiana Plan.”

Leonard believes that the hospital assessment program was successful because the process of engaging member hospitals in the effort was guided by complete transparency and inclusion. “There was a sense among some members, especially in rural and small hospitals, that IHA was only in Indy,” Leonard says. “I tried very hard to change that by very deliberately involving more of the small and rural hospitals to make sure they were included and valued. Even if the tax hadn’t gone through, I wanted members to feel good about how they were treated along the way.”

Leonard has worked to create a team-like atmosphere and develop staff talents at IHA.

In addition to his work in patient safety and transparency, Leonard put in place many essential organizational components for IHA that hadn’t existed before, from human resource structures to performance reviews to statements of values and principles. He also strived to create a better sense of teamwork between and within IHA departments. “We put in place regular senior staff meetings, quarterly management retreats and monthly all-staff meetings to keep everyone informed,” Leonard notes. “We have ongoing structures that help create a team-like environment. That’s been very helpful and will live on after me.”

John Ryan, president and managing partner of Hall Render, believes that Leonard’s work has set IHA up for success well into the future. “Doug’s legacy is that he’s evolved the association to support the needs of the hospitals as those needs have changed over time,” Ryan says. “Change is never easy, and it would have been easy enough to stay the same, but Doug has set IHA on a path of great stability for the coming years ahead.”

“When the history of the Association is written, he will be regarded as a very successful president,” says Render. “Indiana patients and hospitals have benefited greatly from Doug Leonard.”


As for his retirement plans, Leonard is looking forward to what his newfound free time will bring. “I’m going to unplug the alarm clock and take it from there,” Leonard says. “I have a closet full of good intentions—golf clubs I never learned to swing and a guitar I never learned to play. I’ll be able to travel and see people, and I’m looking forward to doing all of that unencumbered by a work schedule.”

Although Leonard will be free from a work schedule starting in June, his work will live on forever in the patients he’s made safer, in the hospitals he’s improved and in the culture of IHA.

Thanks for everything, Doug.