H. Robert Cathcart, administrator at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Hospital for 43 years until his retirement in 1991, and a health care leader who helped shape AHA policy, died earlier today in Waverly, a Philadelphia suburb. He was 92.

Cathcart served as AHA chairman in 1976, received the association’s Distinguished Service Award in 1983 for his contributions to the health care field, and was inducted into the Health Care Hall of Fame in 1997.

Known as a tireless worker and unapologetic perfectionist, Cathcart left an indelible mark both on historic Pennsylvania hospital – founded in 1751 as the country’s first major hospital – and on health care nationally.

He chaired AHA committees that grappled with nursing education policy and care for the poor, and led the search for an AHA president in 1985. He served as speaker of the AHA House of Delegates in 1977.

That was a time when the AHA “increasingly acted as both a defender of hospital interests and an advocate of broader public values,” said a Jan. 20, 1998 Hospitals & Health Network’s article on the AHA’s centennial. “[An AHA] committee in 1977 declared that the AHA is both a trade group and a public interest organization, a distinction that underscored increasing involvement in national health policy.”

Interviewed in 1987 for an AHA oral history, he said one of a hospital leader’s primary tasks is to “create environments for change.” He said hospital leadership requires “Courage. Astute political knowledge. Lots of energy. And a recognition that you don’t solve problems by spending lots of money; you solve them by getting down and brainstorming.”   

AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack called Cathcart “one of the health care giants. Much of the AHA’s movement during the second half of the 20th century toward a vision of hospitals as grand instruments for community service, of pushing clinical services into the community beyond the walls of the hospital, had Bob Cathcart’s fingerprints all over it.”