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From Small Town Hospital Administrator to Healthcare Visionary: The Remarkable Journey of D. Max Francis

Pictured L to R: CCMC CEO Austin Gillard, D. Max Francis, and Eleanor McDonald

D. Max Francis was the Administrator of Clay County Hospital from 1966-1968. The Miltonvale native and Clifton High School graduate’s name still hangs on the wall of a commemorative plaque in the east hall. Once used for inpatient beds, the rooms in the east hall now serve as treatment rooms for occupational and speech therapy, a therapy waiting room, and several offices. After learning Francis was visiting Clay Center, CCMC Volunteer Beverly Lang tracked him down to extend an invitation to the hospital and visit with CEO Austin Gillard.

During his junior year at Kansas Wesleyan University in 1961, Francis was playing football and began to have a bit of blood in his urine. The coach instructed him to visit the doctor’s office and that’s when his passion for healthcare began. While at the doctor, he picked up a book that had nursing students on the cover.

“I opened the cover and there was a photo of Art Landon, the Administrator at Asbury. After looking through the book, I went back to his picture and said to myself, ‘I wonder what he does?’”

The next year, Landon hired Francis to work “all day Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday with an exception of game days,” he explained. “The first thing Art assigned me to do was to take a complete inventory of the hospital equipment. Talk about lessons in what makes the place operate.”

He worked at Asbury Hospital in Salina, KS, for two and a half years. Francis said Landon helped him get into Washington University Medical School where he received his master’s degree in hospital administration. Francis then found himself in Florida for his residency and it was later that year he discovered Frank Masters, the Clay County Hospital Administrator, had passed away.

Francis decided to call and inquire about the position. He spoke with Ed Buchmann, one of the hospital board members, who explained they could not afford to bring him in for an interview. Francis spoke with his mentor at his residency in Florida, and they decided to release him from his residency and pay his way to the end.

“I came up here (Clay County Medical Center), interviewed, and it was April Fool’s Day 1966 when I began working here as the Administrator,” Francis recalled.

At the time, Medicare was not implemented yet and the hospital was not accredited. He explained it involved getting the state to come out and conduct their annual survey. During the same time, there was a doctor in Ellsworth, KS, who came to Clay Center and brought a nurse with him, who goes today by the name of Eleanor McDonald. She was not only the first CRNA at CCMC in 1966, but is currently the eldest living former CCMC team member.

“Eleanor brought with her the professional standards of nursing and a character of a human being that is unmatched. She was able to get training for nurses and prepare us for accreditation. By the time the state got here, she had us whipped into shape so we could get certified and paid by Medicare."

When Francis first began working in Clay Center in 1966, the average patient census was 17 in the 37-bed hospital. At one time, over the course of the next two years, the hospital had 51 patients and Francis said they had to put beds in the hall.

“Maintenance installed a conduit, we hung curtains in the corridors and put beds in there. I called Art Landon in Salina and asked if he still had the old crank beds. He told me “yeah” and we went to get them and set up shop,” Francis said.

Construction of the medical center’s now east wing began during his two years at the Clay Center hospital. The additional space was completed in 1969. Also during his tenure, Clay County Hospital opened a home health department and began to offer ambulance services. In 1967, the area funeral homes stopped providing ambulance service.

“So I went to the county commission and said if you buy the ambulance and give us $50,000 a year, we will run the ambulance service as a hospital department and we’ll take in the home health department,” Francis explained.

The ultimate goal, Francis said, was he wanted to see the unification of healthcare in the hospital since it was, and still is, a county institution. 

Following his time in Clay Center, Francis then found himself at Spelman Memorial Hospital from 1968 to 1971. Spelman Memorial is known today as Saint Luke’s North Hospital - Smithville outside of Kansas City. Then from 1971 to 1987, he had the opportunity to merge the Methodist and Catholic hospitals in Bridgeport, WV. Today, United Hospital Center is a 400-bed facility and affiliated with West Virginia University.

From there Francis went to Omaha and became the administrator for Clarkson Hospital. During his tenure in Nebraska, Clarkson and University hospitals merged to create Nebraska Health System which changed names in 2003 to The Nebraska Medical Center. In 2014, it was publicly announced that The Nebraska Medical Center, Bellevue Medical Center and UNMC Physicians would operate under one name: Nebraska Medicine.

Before the merger, Clarkson Hospital, founded in 1869, and University Hospital, founded in 1917, had each established themselves as leaders in health care. Because Clarkson Hospital was founded in 1869, Nebraska Medicine is the oldest medical center in the state and sees more than 500,000 patient visits yearly.

Following his time in Nebraska, Francis served as the president for two years representing a corporation that designed, created and supported community care plans. From there, Francis then began his consulting business Sage Health. As a consultant, Sage Health worked to develop and operate business coalitions, quality foundations, physician practices and hospitals in 28 United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Honduras.

“I didn’t like consulting because you help people get started, but you don’t get to see the end. And I don’t like that so I quit and bought a company in Mexico,” Francis said.

In 2001, Francis became the Chairman and CEO of Medical Network International/ConsulMed. He had created a Canadian/Mexican conglomerate with 2,700 credentialed physicians, 286 hospitals, pharmacies and laboratories, which provided medical services to international employers, individuals and insurance companies in Mexico.

When he purchased the company, it had 47,000 lives insured. Five years later, Francis said that number was 533,000. In 2011, he reentered the consulting realm and began MAX Management Consultants which he still operates to this day.

D. Max Francis was born in Miltonvale, KS. The year after World War II ended in 1946, his family moved to a farm in Clifton, KS. Francis graduated from Clifton High School in 1956 and currently spends his time between West Virginia and Mexico.