THOMAS SMALLWOOD • Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

After a long career defending hospitals as a medical malpractice attorney, Thomas Smallwood retired. These days, he lives in Wisconsin during the warmer months and in California during the colder months. And he has become a full-time community service agent.

“Community service is the rent you pay for the space you occupy in the community,” he says. “I felt it was important to do volunteer work in the community.”
Smallwood has served on the Milwaukee Symphony and Art Museum boards of directors and still sits on the advisory board of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business.

Smallwood is living proof that one person can make a difference in the community. He played a key role in closing of Milwaukee County’s Doyne Hospital and the reallocation of resources between it and Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital. He joined Froedtert’s board of directors in 1982, was elected chairman of the board in 1985 and served in that post until 2001. He continues to serve on the boards of the Froedtert Foundation and Froedtert & Community Health.

“Thomas’ journey with Froedtert Hospital is almost as long as the hospital’s history,” says Froedtert chief executive officer William Petasnick, who nominated Smallwood for a Health Care Heroes Award. Doyne and Froedtert were joined, but there was a clear division in their resources because they shared the same medical staff.

“They had their own half a hospital,” Smallwood recalls. “We had a chaotic situation when our hospital opened. A lot of physical things were wrong with it. The heating and cooling systems didn’t work, nor did Froedtert’s computerized billing system.”

Over time, Smallwood and Froedtert’s board straightened out the rough spots, but one of his next tasks was to find a new chief executive officer for the combined hospital. They hired Petasnick.

“I said to Bill, ‘If you have the energy, the board will support getting (Doyne) out of the health care business. We bought out the (hospital) in terms that were very favorable to them.” Doyne Hospital was torn down and replaced with programs and an academic medical center.

“We built an ambulatory care center,” Smallwood says. “Then we built additional beds, then another addition for beds and now we’re building a cancer center. That’s going to be a magnificent facility. I have seen it become what I consider to be the finest hospital in America. I think the most important decision was to provide the best equipment and best physical structure that was possible, with a state-of-the-art facility for the medical staff so that they could do the things that they do every single day.”

T. Michael Bolger, president of the Medical College of Wisconsin, says what impressed him most about Smallwood was “his personal integrity, unwavering commitment to the hospital and its goals, his support of hospital administration and its medical staff and his commitment to provide a conservative and governing hand on the life of Froedtert Hospital.”

In addition to his work at Froedtert, Smallwood is the administrator of the Evan and Marion Helfaer Foundation, which has built the Marquette University Helfaer Theatre building and a community services building at the Jewish Community Center, among other projects.

“It’s why I began doing volunteer work, to see first-hand how they were being operated and whether they were being operated properly,” Smallwood says.

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