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Friday, March 5, 2021

From housekeeping to the C-suite: Biggins retires as Harris Methodist Hospital president

Lillie Biggins, president of Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth, will retire Jan. 5, bringing closure to a 45-year-career in health care, much of that time as a critical care nurse.

Barclay Berdan said he hired Biggins 20 years ago when he was president of Texas Health Resources-Fort Worth to be part of the leadership team.

“She brought leadership skills, knowledge of the community and vast and varied skills that helped the hospital evolve into one of the finest large urban hospitals anywhere,” said Berdan, now CEO of the Texas Health Resources system.

Now the question is what does she do next?

“I’m feeling like ‘what am I going to do when I get up in the morning,’” Biggins said. “I never really thought about retiring because it never felt like work to me. It is something I love to do.”

Biggins joined Texas Health Resources in 1997 and served as vice president and senior vice president of operations at Harris Methodist before becoming the hospital’s first female president in 2012.

Biggins came a long way to reach that position.

She got her start in health care sweeping floors. She always wanted to be a nurse and after a few years of cleaning at a hospital, she went to night school and earned her nursing degree.

She took the housekeeping job because it was the only position at the hospital that didn’t require experience but it gave her what she was looking for: a foot in the door. One of the LVNs, Biggins recalls, would often look her in the eye and encourage her with the words, “Don’t stop here.”

She says she loved being a critical care nurse and working directly with patients and their families. Initially, she balked at the opportunity to move up in her career because it meant leaving behind that direct patient care.

“Others told me that I could make more of an impact on people’s lives in administration,” Biggins said. “I have no regrets.”

“Lillie and her team have built THR-Fort Worth into one of the busiest hospitals in the state of Texas,” Berdan said.

It has a reputation as a top facility for stroke and neuroscience care as well cardio-vascular treatment.

“She and her team built that reputation and continue to maintain it,” Berdan said. “Everyone will miss Lillie for her inspirational leadership, her compassion and engagement with the well-being of the staff, patients and the community.”

As a person of faith, Biggins says, she is certain she will find divine guidance for her next step, which certainly will involve taking road trips with her husband, spending more time with grandchildren and continuing her community service through the YMCA, the city of Fort Worth’s Race and Culture Task force, which she co-chairs, and Workforce Solutions of Tarrant County.

Biggins said she is especially passionate about her 15 years on the board of Workforce Solutions and its commitment to help youth who have strayed down the wrong path and gotten in trouble with the law.

“I want to help these young offenders get back into mainstream society and get their lives back on track so they can get good jobs,” she said.

Biggins was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in May 2014, joining the ranks of the state’s most accomplished women. She was named a Great Woman of Texas by the Fort Worth Business Press in 2008. She also was recognized in the newspaper’s 2017 Mentor Awards.

Biggins is known for walking through the hospital’s halls simply to connect with staff – from those who sweep the floors to skilled clinicians. It’s her background that inspires employees and when she says things like, “I may be the president, but I work for you,” the staff knows she’s speaking from her heart.

But Biggins’ impact is felt far beyond the hospital or the health care community.

She has also been chairman and a member of the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport board, and during her tenure the airport expanded through the construction of Terminal D, which has increased international destinations and brought new air carriers. Just as important, the expansion has brought billions of dollars to the North Texas economy and thousands of jobs to the region.

Biggins graduated from John Peter Smith School of Nursing in 1971 alongside her older sister, Alleyne. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Arlington and a master’s degree from Texas Woman’s University in Denton.

Before working at Texas Health Fort Worth, Biggins was chief nursing officer at Columbia Plaza Medical Center of Fort Worth and vice president of east campus operations at Plaza Medical Center of Fort Worth. Between John Peter Smith Hospital and Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, she has 21 years of nursing leadership experience.

Biggins is well known for saying her No. 1 priority is living on purpose – the purpose that God has for her life. And that drive, that focus has spilled over into how Texas Health Fort Worth serves the community.

One example is in Texas Health Fort Worth’s Senior Health & Wellness Center to serve the aging residents of Tarrant County.

Through the years, Biggins says, she saw a need for a specialized service for seniors, many of whom can fall through the cracks in the health care system. She has long dreamed of a medical program specialized to meet the needs of older residents and her vision always has been to help families work together as a unit to care for their aging loved ones at home.

To accomplish this, she envisioned a program where advanced practice nurses help patients and their caregivers with reconciling medications and managing chronic diseases.

When discussions began about the construction of a new emergency care center, Biggins included a clinic for seniors in that space.

In 2014, Texas Health Fort Worth opened the Senior Health & Wellness Center, which provides an array of health and support services, including comprehensive wellness exams to evaluate a senior’s functional ability, physical health, cognition and mental health, and environmental circumstances.

“Lillie Biggins has been an advocate of diversity and inclusion, takes time to mentor others and has received countless academic, community and business awards for her community involvement, mentorship, vision and leadership,” said Sean Donohue, CEO of DFW Airport. “Lillie has a passion for Fort Worth, for her extended community and its citizens, and is a tireless champion of people, business and for always doing what is right.”

Perhaps the thing that really sets her apart is that she has served as a mentor for even top executives. James C. Swartz, president and CEO of Careflite, said many people wouldn’t think so, but even CEOs need mentors. And for more than a decade, Biggins has been his.

“Her mentorship has always led to higher quality results for constituent groups including patients, team members and the public at large,” Swartz said. “She has the extraordinary talent of taking you to the woodshed in a way that creates positive outcomes because you know she is right.”

As she prepares to leave her job, Biggins said she hopes that subsequent leaders will follow her rule of thumb: “Do the right thing for the right reason and treat others as you would want to be treated.”

She also hopes the hospital will continue its culture of teamwork and supportiveness for all employees, “even the little guys” as she once was.

But there’s an immediate challenge.

“I guess the biggest challenge is what will my husband do with me every day,” she said.

This article includes material from the Fort Worth Business Press Archives.

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