DALLAS Fifty years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the hospital where the president was pronounced dead is preparing to leave that tragic scene and move into a new $1.27 billion facility across the street.
The new Parkland Hospital, which broke ground in 2010, is expected to open a year from now, though some sections of the 2.5 million square-foot campus are already complete. The Burn Intensive Care Unit patient rooms were finished in one of the two towers earlier this month, the hospital said. A new parking garage is already in use for patients and visitors to the old Parkland.
“Construction is proceeding very well on time and under budget,” said interim chief financial officer Walter “Ted” Shaw.
Financing for the hospital is near completion this week after the Dallas County Hospital District priced of $37.3 million of limited tax and revenue bonds Monday Nov. 25 through negotiation with Bank of America Merrill Lynch as senior manager.
The bonds drew yields of 4.7% on 4.5% coupons maturing in 2038.
Parkland lost its triple-A ratings this year. Standard & Poor’s lowered the hospital’s rating to AA-plus from AAA on Nov. 5, about four months after Fitch Ratings downgraded its triple-A rating to AA-plus. Analysts at S&P cited “uncertainties that remain with healthcare reform and the potential for the system’s liquidity and operational margins to be strained further.”
Even after Parkland pledged its parking revenue to the upcoming bonds, S&P issued a statement that the downgrade would stand. Despite the downgrades and tribulations at Dallas County’s main charitable hospital in the past couple of years, Shaw said he expected a good reception for the Parkland debt.
“I believe investors will be pleased to see that we are keeping our commitment to the Dallas County taxpayers and completing the bonds with both a tax and a revenue pledge,” Shaw said.
For Shaw, this will be his last deal with Parkland.
On the day the hospital held ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death, Shaw announced that he would be leaving to take the job of president and chief executive officer of the Texas Hospital Association.
Despite the departure, Shaw, a University of Texas alumnus, said he would continue to advocate for the hospital, which is served by nearby UT Southwestern medical school.
“I love Parkland and will only be down the road in Austin,” Shaw said. “I intend to stay connected to Parkland and their continued success.”
Shaw came to Parkland in mid-2012 from the University of Miami Medical Campus, where he was vice president for medical financial affairs. As a consultant and executive for several health firms, he developed expertise in strategic planning, capital formation and restructuring, according to the THA.
Hired after the unexpected departure of Parkland CFO John Dragovitz, Shaw faced difficult budget processes, a threat to the hospital’s qualification to receive Medicaid and Medicare payments and the challenge of completing the new hospital.
Dragovitz had supervised the issuance of more than $700 million of Build America Bonds in 2009, less than a year after winning voter approval as the financial markets were collapsing. Dragovitz announced his departure in June 2012, six months after longtime chief executive Dr. Ron Anderson left under intense pressure over the hospital’s future direction.
Shaw stepped into the job at the height of battles over President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and efforts to expand Medicaid in Texas. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Gregg Abbott joined forces to try to overturn the new law that became known as “Obamacare.”
Perry has refused to set up state exchanges for private health insurance and turned down billions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid.
During his brief tenure, Shaw was one of four finalists for the job of chief executive officer at Parkland, but none of the four were hired and the process started over.
Debbie Branson, who chairs the Parkland board of directors, said she only learned about Shaw’s planned departure on Friday. She said his contract as interim CFO runs through the end of the year.
“While we are sad to see Ted go, we are pleased that he is remaining in Texas and in a position to advocate for hospitals like Parkland through his work at THA,” Branson said in a prepared statement. “He came to Parkland at a very challenging time and performed beyond expectations. He has been a tireless advocate for Parkland and an excellent steward for Dallas County taxpayers’ dollars.”
THA board chairman George Hernandez said Shaw brings “a breadth and depth of knowledge and experience to bear on the most critical issues facing hospitals and is well qualified for this role in the constantly evolving health care environment.”
For Parkland, the need to respond to another executive departure could not have come on a more memorable date. President Kennedy was brought to Parkland’s emergency room at 12:38 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963 with the severe gunshot wounds that would soon claim his life.
Before the president was publicly pronounced dead, his successor Lyndon B. Johnson was hustled out of the hospital to Love Field Airport and Air Force One, where he would wait for First Lady Jackie Kennedy and the coffin bearing her husband. The Secret Service’s removal of Kennedy’s coffin from the hospital before an autopsy could be performed led to a physical confrontation between Secret Service agents and Dallas officials, according to witnesses at the time.
Two days later, Kennedy’s accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald would be brought to the hospital emergency room, where he would also be pronounced dead.
While the existing hospital, built in 1954, is in the same building in which the tragic events of 1963 took place, the operating room where Kennedy died was removed by the federal government 36 years ago and is stored in a former limestone quarry serving as a federal archive in Lenaxa, Kan.
To acknowledge the historical events that took place at Parkland as it moves to its new location, private donors, led by the Dealey family for whom Dealey Plaza is named, are collecting funds for the President John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden, “offering a place of hope, healing and history for patients and the community.”
Amid international media attention on a cold and rainy Friday, Parkland held a brief observance of the anniversary at the flagpole in front of the hospital entry on Harry Hines Boulevard. After Linda Wilkerson, director of pastoral care, offered an opening prayer, the Dallas County Hospital District Police Honor Guard raised the flag to half-staff. Branson then read a letter written in 1963 by the hospital’s administrator at the time, J.C. Price.
“Our pride is not that we were swept up by the whirlwind of tragic history, but that when we were, we were not found wanting,” Price wrote to his staff five days after the assassination.