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C. Duane Dauner: Health Care Hall of Famer

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In the heart of Philadelphia, just across the Delaware River from New Jersey, sits the nation’s oldest hospital, built more than two decades before the American Revolution. Pennsylvania Hospital holds many of health care’s artistic treasures: the famous painting “Christ Healing the Sick in the Temple,” and portraits of pioneers like Dr. Benjamin Rush, surgeon general of the Continental Army, and Dr. Philip Syng Physick, known as the father of American surgery. The hospital’s main floor is also home to Modern Healthcare’s gallery of the Health Care Hall of Fame, on display since the first honorees were inducted in 1988.

Acceptance into the Health Care Hall of Fame is one of the health care field’s most prestigious honors. A partnership between Modern Healthcare and the American College of Healthcare Executives, the program was created to recognize those who have made extraordinary strides, and outstanding and lasting contributions to health care.  

This year, I’m proud to share that C. Duane Dauner, former president & CEO of the California Hospital Association, has been selected to join this august group of health care leaders. Dauner’s award is posthumous, following his death in 2020.

A plaque to commemorate his honor will be installed in the Health Care Hall of Fame.

During his more than 50-year career in the health care field, Duane was a visionary and widely respected national leader whose dedication to improving the health and well-being of all Americans never wavered. Duane was unrelenting in his advocacy for universal health care coverage, dating back to the Clinton administration in the early 1990s. 

His long-held beliefs led him to co-author a book — The Health Care Solution: Understanding the Crisis and the Cure (1994) — in which he advocated for “managed collaboration” based on universal access to a uniform benefit package stressing prevention, and jointly paid for by individuals and business alliances at rates negotiated between carriers and health networks. Many of these concepts ultimately found their way into the transformative Affordable Care Act, legislation Duane was thrilled to support in 2010.

A son of a Kansas farming family and a math professor by background, Duane got his start in the hospital field in 1966 when he joined the Kansas Hospital Association. In 1975, he became the CEO of the Missouri Hospital Association, where he spent 10 years before joining CHA in 1985.

During Duane’s more than 30 years at the helm of CHA, he steered California’s hospitals and health systems through some of the most pivotal moments in the state’s health care evolution. Duane helped California lead the nation in innovative care delivery, quality improvement, and payment programs. His forward thinking resulted in such notable initiatives as the establishment of the Hospital Quality Institute, whose mission is to advance California as a national leader in patient safety and quality of hospital care; and the Hospital Fee Program, which has brought billions in federal funding to California’s Medi-Cal program.

At the heart of all this, and undoubtedly one of the reasons for his selection to the Hall of Fame, was Duane’s kindness and the thoughtfulness he exhibited toward those with whom he worked and for whom he served. He will always be known for remembering the smallest details — the little things that make all the difference whether you’re working on a farm, solving a math equation, or building the vital relationships that have made CHA one of the most effective hospital associations in the nation.

I had the pleasure of working with and knowing Duane for 29 years. No one worked harder, no one was more committed to connecting with and helping others, and no one cared more about California’s hospitals than Duane. I had the opportunity to learn from a giant in our field. We all had the opportunity to benefit from his work. To this giant, and to this man, I say, congratulations on this well-deserved honor!