Lillie Biggins is president of a hospital that likely would not have accepted her as a patient when she was a child because of her race.
Biggins, president of Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth, will be inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame May 6. She joins a class of inductees that includes Texas First Lady Anita Perry.
Most hospitals in the South were segregated until the federal government required hospitals to treat everyone to participate in the Medicare program. It was not until 1964 that the National Hospital Association declared, “Medical and hospital care must be available to all without qualification of any kind.”
Before that, black patients needing hospitalization went to the “Negro Ward” in the basement of St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital. Biggins recalls clearly marked segregated buildings and water fountains.
Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. closed St. Joseph’s in 1994. Ironically, Biggins was the hospital’s last top administrator.
She joined Texas Health Fort Worth in 1997 as vice president of operations. She was promoted to president in 2012. Under her watch, the hospital opened a $57.7 million Marion Emergency Care Center in January.
She has received numerous honors from national and local associations for professional and civic service.
“Lillie’s life has been centered on faith, family and community service,” said Janelle Shepard, THR care transitions senior director. “She is famous for facing difficult, sometimes emotional situations with a steadfast resolve. She tells her hospital employees to ‘do the right thing, we won’t regret it.’”
Biggins began her healthcare career in housekeeping in 1971 at John Peter Smith Hospital. However, she wanted to be a nurse. The licensed vocational nurses taught her the basics of patient care. She recalls one of her mentors looking her in the eye and saying, “Don’t stop here.”
Biggins graduated from JPS’s School of Nursing in 1971 with her older sister, Alleyne. She earned a bachelor of science from the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) and a master of science from Texas Woman’s University in Denton. She was an assistant clinical professor in hospital administration at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas for six years and is an adjunct faculty member at UTA.
Biggins was chief nursing officer at Columbia Plaza Medical Center of Fort Worth and vice president of east campus operations at Plaza Medical Center of Fort Worth.
She was appointed to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Board in May 2005 and was recently named chairperson of the board for the second time of one of the world’s busiest airports. She previously served as chairperson in 2008. During her current stint, she is overseeing a $2.5 billion facelift of the terminals and pushing hard to expand international destinations and carriers.
Biggins’ appointment as president is part of the increasing trend of clinicians running hospitals.
“The most powerful member in the board room is the clinician. THR is paying so much attention now to the chief medical officer position because that is the individual who is the most responsible for driving quality,” she says. “I came out of the intensive care unit. That’s hands-on nursing. In an administrative position, it is harder to see immediate results because you have less hands-on control over what happens.”
Old habits die hard. She keeps a pair of scrubs under desk in case of an emergency. She has not had to use them in years.
“The techs tell me I have better things to do (than pitch in),” she said.
Steve Jacob is founding editor of D Healthcare Daily and author of the book Health Care in 2020: Where Uncertain Reform, Bad Habits, Too Few Doctors and Skyrocketing Costs Are Taking Us. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.