Champions of Health Care
America's complex and technologically driven medical system is as sophisticated, complex and expensive as any in the world. But within that vast system are those who still put the "care" in health care and who we recognize as the winners of this year's Champions of Health Care awards.
Edge magazine, in partnership with the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, received more than 150 nominations from the public about health care providers, administrators and volunteers who have made health care better in Chattanooga. From among those nominations, a panel of judges comprised of top leaders from the medical society and each of Chattanooga's three major hospital systems — Erlanger Health System, CHI Memorial Hospital, Parkridge Health System —picked the winners that we salute in the following pages.
The Champions of Health Care award winners recognize those who have tackled major community health problems, starting programs to tackle obesity and smoking, adding physical therapy training in Chattanooga, and bringing needed medical services to those without health insurance. Others are recognized for new approaches, strong leadership and simple acts of kindness during their lifetimes of achievement and service.
In our second year of the awards, we have quickly discovered the rich talent and commitment from those who work every day to keep us healthy.
Rich and Barbara Kramer, who both grew up on Long Island in New York, came to Chattanooga more than three decades ago when the New Jersey power equipment company where Rich was working wanted him to manage the company's plant in Ringgold, Georgia.
Kramer began running Blue Ridge Tube in 1984. Although Kramer says the move was a bit of a cultural shock at age 28, he quickly learned the business and fell in love with the Chattanooga area. When he was unable to buy into the company as he originally thought he would be able to do, Kramer decided to start his own business.
In 1989, using his industry knowledge and contacts — along with his wife's accounting skills — Kramer started Metro Boiler Tube. Within eight years, he had grown the company to more than $16 million in annual sales and was approached by a Nashville equity group eager to buy the business.
Although he had once set a goal of retiring by the age of 50, Kramer said once he arranged the sale of his business and was approaching retirement, he temporarily got cold feet.
Health Care Volunteer Award
Honors a volunteer in the community who has demonstrated commitment and passion for serving those in need.
Winners: Rich and Barbara Kramer
Accomplishments: After building a successful boiler tube manufacturing business in Ringgold, Georgia, the Kramers sold the business in 2007 and used a portion of their earnings to be active donors, volunteers and fundraisers at CHI Memorial Hospital, giving a total of $1.3 million in gifts and pledges to the MaryEllen Locher Breast Center, the Buz Standefer Lung Center, the Kramer Family Cardiac Imaging Center in the Guerry Heart and Vascular Center and the 3D mammography unit at CHI Memorial’s Chattanooga campus. The couple have also donated more than 7,000 hours of volunteer time at the hospital.
"I didn't know if I could go from working every day, 80 hours a week, to not having a job," Kramer recalls. "But it was a great offer, and I felt at the time I was 50 going on 80."
After the sales agreement was signed to an equity group in Nashville in 2007, Kramer recalls a long and silent trip back in the car to Chattanooga.
"There was dead silence all the way back from Nashville," he recalls. "I kept wondering, 'what did we just do?'"
For the next seven months after selling his business, Kramer threw himself into the task of repainting and remodeling his East Brainerd home and coaching his three children.
But as the home projects were finished and as the children got older, the Kramers, who had been early donors to the MaryEllen Locher Breast Center at CHI Memorial Hospital, soon found a new passion at Memorial Hospital.
The Kramers have given more than $1.3 million in contributions and pledges for a variety of Memorial Hospital projects over the years and are regular volunteers, both as guides or greeters and as board members for the hospital auxiliary and foundation.
"I think I have given money to about every place at Memorial — I want to make sure I have my bases covered in case I need it," Rich jokes.
He likens the volunteer work to "being in business, working and helping people.
"If you can help people, I really believe you should," he says. "I know that one person can make a difference."
The Kramers get up early every Thursday and Friday to volunteer at the hospital's North Tower and surgical suites, helping patients and families find their rooms and assignments in the sprawling hospital campus. They also have donated and helped to raise money from others to aid in Memorial's ongoing growth.
"They are wonderful advocates for our patients and incredibly helpful in almost every way," says CHI Memorial Hospital President Larry Schumacher. "They are such an engaged couple and always concerned about other people and how they can help."
Although neither of the Kramers have any medical background or personal medical problems, they said they recognize the value of helping others and enjoy the chance to meet and aid others, especially when they may need such help. The Kramers are members of St. Stephen Catholic Church, but their tie to Memorial hospital was not so much related to their Catholic faith as just the chance to give back to the community.
Barbara Kramer says they learned those values early in life, watching their parents run small businesses focused on customer service and helping others. Barbara, whose parents ran a bakery on Long Island after coming to the United States from Frankfurt, Germany, when Barbara was a young girl, and Rich, whose parents owned a delicatessen in New York, saw how their parents worked hard and also shared of what they received.
"We were very, very lucky and I always try to remember that," Kramer says. "There are a lot of people who work really, really hard who don't have what we have. I think everything happens for a reason and if you are fortunate, like we have been, there is a reason for that and you should try to give back to others."