Dr. Gerald S. Levey, who is stepping down after 15 years as dean of the medical school and vice chancellor of medical sciences, rallies the troops on moving day in 2008 when hundreds of employees helped move patients to the new hospital.
In his 15 years at the helm of UCLA's medical enterprise, Dr. Gerald S. Levey helped bring an extraordinary endowment to the medical school and oversaw the creation of a world-class hospital, among numerous other accomplishments. On Jan. 31, this vice chancellor of medical sciences and dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine will pass the torch to Dr. A. Eugene Washington, who will assume the post on Feb. 1 upon the UC regents approval of his appointment.
Dr. Levey arrived to head the UCLA Health System in 1994, mere months after the Northridge earthquake caused significant damage to the old UCLA Medical Center. He has since seen the completion of the state-of-the-art Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, enabled the construction of advanced research laboratories, awarded medical degrees to thousands of medical students and attracted millions of dollars in donations.
On the 50th anniversary of the medical school in 2001, Levey, the fourth dean of the school, celebrates with his predecessor Sherman Mellinkoff, the second dean of the school.
Two of his proudest moments, he recalled, were opening the new hospital in 2008 and receiving a $200 million gift from David Geffen in 2002 to endow the medical school, Dr. Levey said.
"I feel extremely proud of all the programs, new departments, department chairs and recruitments over these 15 years," Levey said. "But for sheer emotion, the day the hospital was opened was one of the most emotional days of my life. It was an amazing day. And when the Geffen endowment was completed, that feeling was indescribable."
The hospital is a "continuing source of joy," Levey said. "To see the first children transferred to the new hospital and witness their reaction to the new facilities and play area was wonderful," he recalled. The 2002 Geffen endowment took the school from being largely dependent on state funds to a school with the ability to provide more scholarships, endowed chairs, improved recruitment and retention, and, Levey noted, "enough funding to support us as a major research institution."
From left to right: former first lady Nancy Reagan, Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Acting UCLA Chancellor Emeritus Norman Abrams and Gerald Levey, on the opening day of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
While Levey will relinquish his role as leader of the health system, he will remain at UCLA as a professor, dean emeritus, consultant and, he hopes, author. He already has plans to work with others from UCLA on a complete documentation of construction of the hospitals and four medical research buildings.
"I would also like to attempt to put into book form my views on the leadership of academic medical centers," Levey said. "There hasn't really been any attempt before to describe the qualifications or the personal characteristics of those doing the job I'm completing," Levey said. "Then I'd like to develop a course on leadership, pertinent to CEOs in academic medical centers."
Dr. David Feinberg, CEO of the UCLA Hospital System, described Levey as an immensely respected colleague, mentor and friend.
"He has given me incredible advice over the years, and everything he says turns out to be exactly right," Feinberg said. "The Ronald Reagan hospital was his vision, and there is no better hospital in the world, any way you measure it."
At opening day of the new hospital, Levey with then-Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Burke. Levey has been consulted by county supervisors for his health care expertise.
In addition to the medical school with some 2,000 faculty and 725 students, there is the UCLA Health System, which is composed of more than 75 clinics and four hospitals on two medical campuses – Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, the Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital and Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA in Westwood, and Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital. Every year UCLA serves 80,000 hospital patients and 1.5 million patients in clinics.
It's Levey's firm sense of the hospital system’s mission — to support groundbreaking research as well as to provide exceptional patient care — that has led to its greatness, Feinberg said.
"When I meet with other hospital directors, I hear them fretting about the hospital wanting to go one way while the doctors want to go another. We don't have that problem," Feinberg said, "because Dr. Levey has figured out that the hospital is here to make the dreams and wishes of the faculty come true. The hospital is here because of the medical school.”
Under Levey's leadership, the Geffen School of Medicine has ranked among the best research-based medical schools in the country and in the top ten for the last two years. The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center is ranked as the No. 3 hospital in the United States and No. 1 in the West by U.S. News & World Report. Mattel Children's Hospital figures prominently among the top U.S. pediatric hospitals, and the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital is the No. 1 neuropsychiatric hospital in the West and No. 5 in the country.
Levey’s leadership has also extended well beyond UCLA. Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky recalled Levey's guidance during difficult days dealing with the county's Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in South L.A. Opened in 1972 in the wake of the 1965 Watts riots, the supervisors closed the hospital in 2007 after a series of troubles, including the cut-off of its Medicare funding by federal regulators. Last November, an announcement was made that MLK Jr. Hospital, which delivers much-needed care to an underserved population, would be reopened as a result of a partnership between the University of California and L.A. County.
"Levey was of great assistance to me at the county," Yaroslavsky said. "He was a person I would go to for a reality check on what we were being told by consultants, and he gave me some very keen advice. He's a man of great integrity. I frequently went to him for suggestions on top personnel we were looking at hiring, and he allowed me to pick his brain. … The impact he's had on the UCLA Medical School and on medical delivery in the county as a whole is first-rate."
Watch this video to hear Levey talk about his arrival at UCLA, shortly after the Northridge earthquake damaged the old hospital.