Dr. Bruce Murphy Leaves the Cath Lab to Become CEO of Arkansas Heart Hospital.

by George Waldon  on Monday, Oct. 3, 2011 12:00 am  

Dr. Bruce Murphy gets to ramp up his love for patient interaction with his new role as CEO of Little Rock's Arkansas Heart Hospital. (Photo by Michael Pirnique)

Dr. Bruce Murphy found himself at an unexpected crossroad after Medcath Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., announced its intention last year to exit the ownership picture at Arkansas Heart Hospital.

Several prospective buyers tracked through town contemplating a buyout of Medcath's 70.3 percent stake in the 112-bed facility in west Little Rock.

Murphy and the other local doctors/investors holding the remaining 29.7 percent didn't feel good about what might accompany a new majority partner.

"We had shivers it would change our culture and that we would become just a piece of property to them," he said. "The question boiled down to: Who do we really trust this to? A light went on: ‘Bruce, the only way you can do this is for you to do this.'"

The decision to lead a $65 million buyout of Medcath and personally take over management of the specialty hospital had dramatic professional consequences.

Murphy had to abruptly end a 30-year career as a respected cardiologist. To become the full-time CEO and administrator of the specialty hospital he helped launch with MedCath in 1997 meant relinquishing his medical license to comply with new federal laws regarding hospital ownership by doctors.

"This wasn't the first plan," Murphy said. "It wasn't even the third or fourth plan. Most doctors don't retire to become administrators."

But the move, which on Aug. 1 solidified local control and autonomy, made too much sense for him to get hung up on ending his medical practice. It still wasn't easy for Murphy, known for his technical ability in the catheter lab as well as his sparkling bedside manner.

To help close the books on 25 years of private practice at Little Rock Cardiology Clinic, he organized town meetings in communities such as Camden, El Dorado, Magnolia, Danville and Benton to help patients transition.

"Those have been extremely gratifying to me," Murphy said. "Many of these people I've taken care of are my friends. I couldn't just say goodbye to them all without trying to explain why I could no longer be their doctor."

While it was tough having to turn the medical care of his patients over to others, the idea of turning the hospital over to an outsider after he and others had invested so much time and emotional energy to make it successful became unbearable.

"Transitionwise, it has not been terribly difficult," Murphy said of the doctor -to-CEO shift. "I was making management decisions the last 10 years anyway."



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