Retiring Frock Praised for 'Vision' in Leading FirstHealth
“He plants trees to benefit another generation,” Caecilius Statius, a Roman comic poet, wrote more than 2,000 years ago.
But Alex Bowness, chairman of the FirstHealth of the Carolinas Board of Directors, believes those words are as apropos today to describe the legacy of Charles T. Frock, who retired Friday after two decades as CEO of the regional health care system.
“It is truly amazing what he has accomplished,” Bowness said. “What he has done has been magnificent, and we all benefit right now. But I think what he has done won’t be fully appreciated for another 20 years because what he has built will still be growing.”
Frock, 62, has been credited with propelling the Pinehurst-based health system to the forefront in regional health care delivery.
When Frock took over as president and CEO of then-Moore Regional Hospital in July 1991, the foundation had already been laid for a regional network. His goal was to take it to another level.
Four years later, he helped engineer the merger of Moore Regional and Montgomery Memorial Hospital in Troy, which gave birth to FirstHealth. He became its CEO.
Since then, FirstHealth has carried out several multimillion-dollar campaigns and expanded beyond the traditional role of hospital care into such areas as hospice, dental care, community health, home care and health insurance.
“When you step back and look at more than a few years, you begin to see the magnitude of the growth and progress,” Frock said in an “exit” interview last week. “I’ve always enjoyed building things and making an enterprise successful. And I’ve always enjoyed having the big picture in mind.”
John May, a Pinehurst attorney who has served on the board since 1993 and is a former chairman, said Frock has the rare ability of anticipating industry trends and positioning FirstHealth to capitalize on them.
“The thing that separates Chuck from a lot of executives is that he has an insatiable desire to be informed and ask, ‘What is the future likely to be?’” May said. “The ability to be proactive like that takes an exceptional person. It is one thing to run the enterprise. It’s another to have the vision. It’s something else to have both of those skills.
“I think it takes a very capable person to do one of them. To do both of them well takes an extraordinary person. Chuck was the right guy at the right time.”
John Dempsey, who became president of Sandhills Community College shortly before Frock was hired, agreed that Frock has the ability “to see around corners.”
“He always seems to be one step ahead of the next guy. I think that’s one of the secrets to his success,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey added that Frock has been “a great champion” of the college.
“I think both institutions have grown and prospered because we’ve always had a great cooperative relationship,” Dempsey said. “We’re just lucky to have been able to share his gifts and the fruits of his labors.”
Frock has always believed in the diversity of the course offerings at SCC, a point that was underscored when he recently took a “History of Rock & Roll” class there.
“I was the youngest person in the class, but it was fun to get exposed to something different,” he said.
Frock also “let his hair down” at a recent fundraiser on the FirstHealth campus by sitting atop a dunking booth wearing an old suit.
“It was 50 cents to throw the balls and $10 to just come up and push the button,” he said with a smile. “Needless to say, I was in the water a lot. Fortunately, it was an old suit that I was planning on throwing away.”
While on the job, Frock oversaw the development and coordination of FirstHealth’s goals, objectives and strategic plans, and ensured that FirstHealth’s core purpose — to care for people — was fulfilled.
“Essentially, everything that we do at FirstHealth has a clear focus on providing people with the highest-quality care possible,” he said. “At the end of the day, the management team, physicians, employees, board members and everyone else has come together and executed well.
“I think we have been good stewards of the assets that we have and the money that we raise.”
Prior to joining FirstHealth, Frock was chief operating officer of Mease Health Care in Dunedin, Fla., from 1989 to 1991 and the administrator of Mease Hospital from 1986 to 1989. Previously, he was the CEO of hospitals in Valdese, Lexington and Oxford in North Carolina.
He received a bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering, with a minor in business administration, from the University of Florida in 1971. He went on to graduate school at Duke University, where he earned a master’s degree in health administration in 1974.
Two significant events occurred while he was at Duke: He visited Moore Memorial Hospital as part of his graduate work and saw some future possibilities. He also met his future wife, Nancy, who was a nurse at Duke. They married in September 1973.
Frock had applied for the top job at Moore Regional in 1989, when Crenshaw Thompson retired. But the board chose to hire from within, promoting Chris Durer.
When the hospital found itself in the market for a president and CEO in 1991, the search firm that assisted the board contacted Frock. The board hired him.
A year before Frock arrived, Moore Regional had begun its open-heart surgery program, which catapulted the hospital to the status of a regional referral center. Frock, who saw regionalism as a great opportunity, was given the charge to build on that success and move forward into other new frontiers.
The area was also attracting some of the country’s top specialists. For such a rural area, Moore County was developing a sophisticated medical community.
After the birth of FirstHealth in 1995, the system began seeking other opportunities to grow.
It added Richmond Memorial Hospital in 2001. Headquartered in Pinehurst, the comprehensive nonprofit health system has more than 4,100 employees and serves 15 counties.
In addition to three hospitals with 559 licensed beds, the system has an inpatient rehabilitation center, sleep disorder centers, wound care centers, dental care clinics, a back and neck pain center, family care centers, fitness centers, laundry, charitable foundations, hospice, home health services and a wholly owned health plan. FirstHealth also operates a critical care transport service and EMS/medical transport services in four area counties.
“I take great pride in seeing the balance and comprehensiveness of the enterprise,” Frock said. “It’s important for us to meet as many needs as possible rather than focusing on a narrow line of services. Even though Moore Regional was successful before I came, we’ve become even more successful as a regional system.”
With annual net revenue of $500 million, FirstHealth also has an AA/AA- credit rating with all rating agencies.
“We are the smallest health care system in the country to have that rating,” Frock said.
Frock has given way to new CEO David Kilarski because he believes in the Rule of Three, a principle in writing that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things.
“When I came here, we improved Moore Regional,” he said. “Then we built FirstHealth. Now, the health care industry is about to go through a major transformation in this country. That’s the next big phase. It’s a different approach to health care and it’s going to take time and energy.
“To me, if I can’t see it through, I don’t want to start it. I believe more in accomplishments than the process, so now is the perfect time to retire.”
‘Miss the People’
Frock is a member of numerous state and national boards and commissions, and plans to “keep my finger” in the industry by continuing to serve.
“At least in the near future. I’ve always enjoyed health care and trying to make a difference,” he said.
Frock’s hobbies include hiking and sailing, and he is a voracious reader. But he has no immediate plans in retirement.
“I’m looking at boats, but I think you limit yourself if you try to plan too much,” he said. “I’ve always just enjoyed believing in serendipity. I think new interests will emerge. I’m interested to see what they are because I really don’t have a clue.”
While admitting that he has never really had “periods of downtime” in his career, Frock also looks forward to the next phase of his life.
“I”ve been transitioning in my mind,” he said. “The world is going to be different. I’ll miss the people and the enjoyment of solving problems. But I’m going to relax and recharge my batteries.
“I’ve always enjoyed working, and I feel good about retiring.”
May said he will “truly miss” working with Frock.
“He deserves the accolades and he deserves the rest,” May said. “I wish him well.”
Contact Ted M. Natt. Jr at email@example.com.
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