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The Good Samaritan Who Runs Good Sam Hospital

April 29, 1985|URSULA VILS | Times Staff Writer

One hundred years ago, a woman founded what was to become the Hospital of the Good Samaritan in Los Angeles. A hundred years later, it is still being run by a woman.

In 1885, Sister Mary Wood, an Episcopal nun, began serving the sick in a cottage accommodating nine patients. Now, in its centennial year, the hospital has grown into a facility built in 1976 at a cost of $33 million that provides 411 patient beds, employs as many as 1,400 people and has a staff of 500 doctors; its total assets for the fiscal year ending Sept. 1, 1984, were more than $108 million.

Wide Horizons

Responsibility for the hospital's operation falls on Geneva A. Clymer, its executive director, a trim 60-year-old whose professional life has centered on Good Sam since she took her nurse's training there. The only time since entering nursing that she has not been on the hospital staff was during 1951-52 when she was earning a bachelor of science degree at UC Berkeley.

Clymer, however, has wide horizons. She serves on the board and/or committees of 15 civic and professional organizations, belongs to several more, teaches at Cal State L.A. (where she earned her master's degree) and participates in numerous health care conferences and programs.

Yet she finds time for gardening at her home in the Eagle Rock area, where she lives with a black Labrador dog named Brutus. She enjoys reading, art, music and an occasional game of tennis ("something I wish I had more time to do"), visiting with family and friends and, especially, their children. She travels both for business and pleasure.

She sat in the living room of her hillside home on a sunny spring morning, looking out on the pleasant brick patio she herself built. She talked about her family--her mother, brothers, their children and grandchildren--and the things she enjoys: a book she is reading, a painting that her mother did, a sculpture she bought on her first trip to Europe, the golden Sunday mornings that she spends on her patio with a cup of coffee and a newspaper and, above all, her garden.

But Geneva Clymer is never far from her work; it is the paramount part of her life. She juggles her many interests among 12-hour work days that frequently stretch out into the evening hours, plus weekend events.

'Challenging, Frustrating'

In a quiet conference room outside her office in the sleek new hospital, Clymer talked about her job, which she termed "exciting, challenging, demanding, frustrating."

"But I am not easily discouraged," she said. "A lot of my role is just in listening. This is a very tense environment. We are dealing with intense situations--literally life and death."

She spoke of the rapid changes in the health care industry in recent years.

"Hospitals as an industry are undergoing some of the most radical changes in their 200-year history in the United States," Clymer said. "There is not a day that I don't see an article in a publication about the health delivery system. It has undergone a revolution in the past couple of years.

"It has to do with payment. The people paying the health care bills have interspersed themselves in the system. The biggest payer is the federal government, then the state and local governments. Next are the employers who provide medical insurance and who have the primary objective of lowering the cost of the premiums. The insurance companies are in the middle of the payment mechanism.

"They have been successful. We see the occupancy of hospitals as considerably down. It has plunged. This has created a crisis situation in hospitals.

"Newspaper stories on hospitals used to appear in the society pages; now they appear in the financial section."

Clymer noted the trend of unaffiliated, independent hospitals to join with others, adding:

"This (a hospital) is no longer a service or a community institution. It is big business. We are moving into a corporation scene with emphasis on the bottom line.

'Came Down Too Hard'

"Probably, the hospital system has brought some of this on itself. Our basic conception has been on service and perhaps we have not been as business-like as we should have been. Formerly, the government paid us what it cost us. Then they came down too hard. We must move back to not forgetting the reasons why we went into (medical care) in the first place.

"Our whole insurance system makes no sense. It is not health insurance; it is really sickness insurance. Our money would be much better spent in keeping people well. But there is not enough glamour in that. We do heart transplants instead."

Clymer also spoke of Medicare and the health needs of both the elderly--those over 65 account for 60% of hospital patient days--and the young.

"The old are presenting a major crisis as far as health care delivery goes," she said, "but also in other areas--housing, jobs, the acceptance of their contribution to society.

Role of the Hospital

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