For her role in transforming a safety net hospital into a national model for high-quality, cost-efficient health care, the National Academy of Medicine today announced Patricia Gabow is the recipient of the 2019 Gustav O. Lienhard Award for Advancement of Health Care. The award, which recognizes Gabow’s achievements with a medal and $40,000, will be presented at the National Academy of Medicine’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 21. Gabow is the former CEO of Denver Health and professor emerita of the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Throughout her almost 50-year career, Gabow has led a multiyear, multiphase transformation at a public hospital system; served as a leading clinical investigator; and advocated for improving health care delivery through her writing, professorship, and board service. Gabow was the third woman in Denver Health’s 150 year history to become its CEO, a role she held for 20 years. Under Gabow’s leadership, Denver Health achieved extraordinary quality outcomes and financial stability, while staying true to its mission to preserve access to care for the most vulnerable.

During her tenure, Denver Health became recognized as the premier Level-One trauma system in Colorado, achieved an 80 percent immunization rate among low-income children, and had the lowest observed to expected mortality rate among 117 academic health centers nationwide. Gabow also shepherded the system to financial stability, while enabling it to provide over $4.7 billion of care to the uninsured without increased City of Denver financial support. Because of her expertise in the care of vulnerable populations and safety net systems, she was appointed as a founding member of the federal Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program Payment and Access Commission.

Denver Health became one of the first health systems in the U.S. to embrace Lean management principles during Gabow’s tenure. Gabow implemented Lean principles – which are designed to minimize waste in every process – across the entire system, in partnership with over 2,000 employees including 300 physicians, nurses, and mid-managers trained as Lean leaders. In addition, Gabow solidified Denver Health’s relationship with the University of Colorado School of Medicine as one of the school’s primary teaching hospitals.

Gabow began her career at Denver Health in 1973, when she started the health system’s nephrology service. Her research on fluid and electrolyte disorders and genetic kidney disorders has culminated in over 170 publications. For 15 years, Gabow served as principal investigator for the National Institutes of Health’s largest clinical project on polycystic kidney disease. She was also a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine for 30 years.

Gabow has served on commissions and boards dedicated to improving health care delivery, including the Commonwealth Commission on a High Performance Health System, the National Governors Association’s health advisory committee, and the Aspen Group. She currently serves on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Board of Trustees and the Lown Institute Board of Directors.

“Dr. Gabow has changed the notion of what a local safety net hospital can be by transforming Denver Health into a highly integrated health care system that serves everyone,” said National Academy of Medicine President Victor J. Dzau. “Not only did she make Denver Health a national model of success, she created a culture where all employees embodied the best values of health care – respect, collaboration, and relentless commitment to continuous improvement. She is most deserving of this prestigious award.”

Gabow is the 34th recipient of the Lienhard Award. Given annually, the award recognizes outstanding national achievement in improving personal health care in the United States. Nominees are eligible for consideration without regard to education or profession, and award recipients are selected by a committee of experts convened by the Academy. This year’s selection committee was chaired by Donald M. Berwick, M.D., president emeritus and senior fellow, Institute for Healthcare Improvement; and former administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Lienhard Award is funded by an endowment from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Gustav O. Lienhard was chair of the foundation’s board of trustees from the organization’s establishment in 1971 to his retirement in 1986 — a period in which the foundation moved to the forefront of American philanthropy in health care. Lienhard, who died in 1987, built his career with Johnson & Johnson, beginning as an accountant and retiring 39 years later as its president.

The National Academy of Medicine, established in 1970 as the Institute of Medicine, is an independent organization of eminent professionals from diverse fields including health and medicine; the natural, social, and behavioral sciences; and beyond. It serves alongside the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering as an adviser to the nation and the international community. Through its domestic and global initiatives, the NAM works to address critical issues in health, medicine, and related policy and inspire positive action across sectors. The NAM collaborates closely with its peer academies and other divisions within the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

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