Thornton’s Leadership Makes Lasting Impact
Tommy G. Thornton, FACMPE, executive director of Hattiesburg Clinic, has announced that he will retire Oct. 1, 2020, after serving as the executive director for the last 40 years. He will work with new clinic CEO, Bryan Batson, MD, in transition until the first of the year.
Thornton began his health care career at Hattiesburg Clinic in 1971 as an accountant and was promoted to an assistant administrator in 1977. Three years later, he began his 40-year journey as the CEO of the largest, privately-owned multi-specialty clinic in the state of Mississippi.
Jeri Eron, administrative assistant, has worked for Thornton for more than 40 years at Hattiesburg Clinic and praised her employer’s direction and leadership skills for the last four decades.
“Tommy leads with quiet strength and is respected by all. He’s a great listener who is fair in dealing with all situations,” Eron said. “He is a man of his word with integrity beyond reproach. We will miss him and his leadership style.”
As executive director, Thornton’s leadership has changed the face of health care throughout southeast Mississippi. From the beginning, the Hattiesburg native has been focused on bringing quality medical care to the community in which he was raised. When Thornton began his tenure as executive director, the clinic had 34 physicians and operated in two locations. Today, the clinic has grown to almost 300 physicians, operates over 50 locations, and employs more than 2,400 people who care for patients throughout 17 counties.
John Fitzpatrick, MD, nephrologist, and president of the board of directors at Hattiesburg Clinic, is one of the 300 physicians recruited by Thornton and said a primary driver of success for Thornton has always been his ability to recruit new physicians to the area.
“Tommy has interviewed nearly every physician who has joined Hattiesburg Clinic,” Fitzpatrick said. “During that process, he establishes a bond with that physician, and he maintains that one-on-one connection with the physician throughout their tenure at the clinic. That continuity has been important to the growth of the clinic.”
Along with bringing comprehensive quality care to the Pine Belt, Thornton’s efforts were focused on affordable health care for the patient. Under Thornton’s direction, the clinic implemented the area’s first substantial Medicare Advantage Plan. Over the last several years, the clinic established the area’s first Medicare and commercial accountable care organizations. In both 2017 and 2018, the clinic rated number one in quality compared to over 100 comparable shared savings programs nationally.
William Whitehead, MD, a retired physician who worked in the general surgery department at Hattiesburg Clinic, worked alongside Thornton on several projects, including the opening of The Breast Center and starting the Southern Physician Insurance Company.
“Tommy’s always been able to identify opportunities of growth and recognize the conservative implementation for new services,” Whitehead said. “Tommy has had his hand in every aspect of the clinic’s growth and success, and we are all proud of his hard work and support during his tenure of employment.”
During his tenure, Thornton successfully guided Hattiesburg Clinic through various infrastructure changes, complex construction projects, and real estate acquisitions. The clinic, which began as a one-floor building with a basement, finished construction of the six-story tower in 1996, and in the intervening years, has continued to expand as new departments and services are added. Today, Hattiesburg Clinic’s departments and services encompass over 1.1 million square feet of medical office space in South Mississippi to ensure Hattiesburg Clinic physicians have a good environment to practice and that patients have accessible health care.
Richard Clark, MD, one of the 10 founders of Hattiesburg Clinic, recalls Thornton’s interview for the administrative position and said the entire board was entranced by Thornton.
“He was solving all these problems we had about how to earn money and how to get people to refer to us,” Clark said. “Tommy led us to where we are today.”
Over and above procedural and pharmaceutical changes, the implementation of new medical records technologies has critically impacted how health care is delivered. In 2003, Thornton guided the clinic to the area’s first electronic medical records implementation.
In 2010, Bryan Batson, MD, the chief informatics officer at Hattiesburg Clinic, worked closely with Thornton on another electronic medical records company, Epic. Their combined efforts resulted in the receipt of numerous awards for innovative and efficient care it provides its patients.
“Throughout this 10-year project, one of the things I learned from Tommy, which has been so helpful to me, is to try to examine all aspects of a project, to play the devil’s advocate, and to look at the broader picture,” Batson said. “That’s helped me tremendously as I have worked through these projects with him over the last several years.”
While Thornton’s commitment to the clinic is evident in its achievements, he has shown the same commitment to ensuring prosperity in our community. Thornton has served in various capacities at The University of Southern Mississippi, including both adjunct field instructor and advisory board member for the former College of Health and Human Services, an advisory board member for the College of Business, and currently holds a seat on the USM Foundation Board of Directors. He has also served in the community as an advisory board member for BancorpSouth. Thornton has played a vital role as the Chairman of the board of directors for the Hattiesburg Area Development Partnership. He helped lead their Pinnacle Capital Campaign, successfully raising more than $3 million to drive economic development in the Pine Belt. He is an active member of the board of directors for Edwards Street Fellowship Center, a faith-based ministry with a mission to serve the day-to-day needs – including medical, food, and clothing – of people in the Hattiesburg area.
“I have worked with Tommy for 43 years, and his contributions to Hattiesburg Clinic and the community will never be forgotten,” Rhonda Davion, administrative assistant, said. “His guidance and encouragement have been such a blessing to me. I will miss his leadership and hope his retirement is filled with joy and happiness. He deserves it!”