George B Hernández, Jr. —
The Lawyer Who Heads University Health System
By Susan Yerkes
Photo courtesy: Oscar Williams
There’s a vast distance between between being an uninsured patient at the county hospital and running the massive modern University Health System. That’s the journey George B. Hernández Jr. has taken, armed with a law degree, a talent for management and negotiation, and a lot of good old hard work.
Today Hernández is one of the most prominent leaders in Texas health care. As President and CEO of University Health System (UHS), he heads the Bexar County Hospital District, a 1.5 billion-dollar enterprise with some 7,000 employees. From University Hospital and 19 health care centers around the county to a non-profit HMO, a huge physicians’ practice group and a share of an emergency air ambulance program, he presides over a huge, vital component of South Texas’ medical scene. His salary and bonus for the job come to about $725,000 a year, a figure in line with the compensation for the heads of other major Texas hospital systems.
Hernández is not a doctor – he’s a lawyer by trade. A graduate of Saint Mary’s University and George Washington School of Law, he never dreamed his law degree would eventually lead him to his present position.
Back in law school in the ‘70s, Hernández never took a course in health care law. That was a couple of decades before the State Bar of Texas created a Health Care section, and most law schools didn’t even offer such classes, he said. The closest he got was a course on local government law.
“I always really liked the policy side,” he says. “If you represent one client, you can have a great effect on that one client. But if you can use the law to influence public policy for the greater good, you may touch a thousand or a million people.”
Fresh out of law school, Hernández cut his teeth on civil law in the San Antonio City Attorney’s office, where he worked from 1978 to ’82. When Sam Millsap was elected District Attorney, his friend Ricardo Cedillo urged Hernández to interview with Millsap. At just 31 years old, Hernández was named Chief of the DA’s Civil Section, which represented the Bexar County Commission, county officials – and the County Hospital District. Hernández went to his first meeting of the Hospital District board of directors in December of 1982. He has not missed a single board meeting since.
For seven years, Hernández served as the DA’s office “go-to guy” on hospital district matters. When John Guest, then the hospital district CEO, decided to bring an attorney onto the district’s executive team in 1990, Hernández applied for the job. .
He got it, and he excelled. In 2000, when Guest left UHS, new CEO Jeff Turner promoted Hernández to executive vice president/assistant administrator . And when Turner stepped down in 2005, the UHS Board of Managers unanimously voted to appoint Hernández as new President and CEO. He became the health system’s first Hispanic leader, and has earned consistent praise in the job.
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