TUPELO — For 42 years, Gerald Wages has been a pillar of leadership at North Mississippi Health Services.
In 1969, he started as assistant administrator and CFO of the Tupelo hospital. Wages, who served as interim chief executive three times for the hospital system, is retiring as executive vice president for community hospitals for North Mississippi Health Services. He will continue to serve part time as the vice president of external affairs.
“I do plan to slow down” hopefully by the end of February, said Wages, who is looking forward to more time with wife Donna and the rest of his family and weekend drives in his restored 1965 Turquoise Twilight Mustang convertible.
During his tenure, the hospital has grown exponentially from a single stand-alone community hospital to an integrated health care system with six hospitals, dozens of clinics, a preferred provider network and a robust community health program.
“Serving one organization for more than 42 years is a remarkable accomplishment,” said John Heer, chief executive for North Mississippi Health Services. “Gerald’s contributions to this organization are immeasurable, and we are who we are today due in large part to his leadership and influence.”
The scope of Wages’ work has taken him beyond Tupelo. He has served as chairman of the Mississippi Hospital Association board and as a member of regional and national advisory committees for the American Hospital Association.
“Gerald has been a real advocate for health care delivery and health care services in the state and country,” said Sam Cameron, chief executive of the Mississippi Hospital Association.
But it’s not buildings and committees that Wages cherishes.
“What I’m most proud of is the great people in the organization,” Wages said. “That didn’t happen by accident. I’ll remember the people I’ve worked with. That’s what matters.”
His colleagues praised Wages as a quiet, thorough, humble gentleman with an ability to listen to all sides and bring people together to work toward a long-range vision.
“He’s been a common thread for 42 years,” said North Mississippi Health Services chief information officer Tommy Bozeman, who has worked with Wages since 1975.
It isn’t just longevity, his colleagues say.
“He’s well-respected for his great knowledge and his willingness to share knowledge,” said North Mississippi Health Services vice president Rodger Brown, who has worked with Wages for nearly 35 years.
Wages has been particularly known for both his calm demeanor and thorough research. In the mid-1990s, when the market for liability insurance collapsed, Wages was one of the key architects of Mississippi Hospital Association’s Health Providers Insurance Company, which now provides liability coverage to hospitals and physicians.
“He brings a stabilizing force to any situation,” Cameron said.
Wages is nationally recognized in health care through his work with the American Hospital Association, said Dr. Edward Hill, who served as president of the American Medical Association.
“He understands and listens to both sides and can explain them very clearly,” Hill said. “He brings a balance, and that’s a big deal.”
Wages never aspired to a career in health care.
He was working as a young certified public account with a large firm in New Orleans, when he and wife Donna realized they wanted to raise a family back home in Tupelo.
He took a position with a Tupelo CPA firm, and one of his first assignments was auditing the hospital. The administrator E.L. King liked what he saw in the young accountant and worked on recruiting Wages for three months. Wages was initially reluctant to join the hospital staff.
“I didn’t want to have to be in the same place all the time,” Wages said. “I probably wouldn’t have survived that first year without the people who helped me.”
The decision to take a chance on health care has been a rewarding one. A cohesive regional medical system, where there is one electronic medical records system used by hundreds of doctors and six hospitals, is surprising to find in small-town Mississippi. Every other comparable hospital system is in a metropolitan area, he said.
That comes, Wages said, not from one person, but from a group of talented people surrounded by a community that supported the vision.
“We had the opportunities to do things, like 25-year long-range plans,” Wages said. “We’ve had opportunity to build something here you couldn’t build anywhere else.”