By now, I am certain you have heard that Ralph Farr, UTMB’s former Vice President of Information Services, passed on this week after a long illness. I know all of us were saddened with the loss of a trusted colleague and friend. As I thought about what I would write for this Friday Flash Report, I felt strongly that I needed to acknowledge Ralph’s leadership and friendship that he shared with us at UTMB.
I remember vividly the first time I met Ralph. It was a welcoming visit, and though he did not report directly to me, he let me know that he and the entire Information Services (IS) team felt personally accountable for helping the Health System meet its goals. He was, in short, a colleague and a team player.
In the months and years I worked with Ralph, he was always very much a part of the team, as equally invested in patient care as the rest of us. As I got to know him better, I gained a true appreciation for his understated leadership style: quietly doing the work that needed to be done while vigorously supporting the staff in IS, as well as the leadership of UTMB. He learned, over the years, to do a lot with very little. Ralph was very proud of the work IS had done with the Epic electronic medical record, although we both laughed that it was probably the longest rollout known to humankind!
When the specter of ICD-10 loomed large and it was clear that our registration, scheduling and billing systems would not function in an ICD-10 world, Ralph honored the past successes of IS’s systems while also becoming one of the strongest advocates for the necessary change that brought us the utmbConnect project. He championed leaders, he worked tirelessly to recruit and retain good staff, and he welcomed the collaborative approach with operations, openly acknowledging the need for the utmbConnect project not to be another “Information Services project,” but rather an “Information Services/Health System Operations collaboration.” He paved the way for what would be a successful implementation of the revenue cycle systems in April 2013.
Along the utmbConnect journey, Ralph shared with me and others that he was not well. We all watched as he tackled his health issues with strength, courage and determination. I was astonished at how he seldom missed a beat at work, all the while fighting a formidable health foe. I was also struck by the compassion and support Ralph received from the IS colleagues whom he had always supported in the past. They were always there for him. After all, that is the UTMB Way. We take care of each other.
On April 6, 2013, utmbConnect went live. The command center was a hive of activity with people from Epic, UTMB IS and UTMB Operations filling three rooms on the first floor of the Administration Building. As I was going through one of the rooms, I noticed a gentleman in the back of the room watching everything that was going on and smiling. It was Ralph. Although he had not been at work much lately due to his health challenges, he told me that this was a day he was not going to miss. I could tell by talking to him and by the look on his face that he felt so proud to be part of this effort and part of the UTMB team!
I was reminded by a wise mentor that in order to inspire or build a bright future, we have to honor the best things of the past. I feel that Ralph embodied that advice.
T.S. Eliot once wrote, “Life would be no better than candlelight tinsel or daylight rubbish if our spirits were not touched by what has been.”
All of us have been touched by or inspired by the work that Ralph did at UTMB and by his leadership legacy. We will all miss him.