Tom FlanaganTom Flanagan: Intown's Medical Person of the Year

by Minnie Payne


Tom Flanagan: Intown's Medical Person of the Year
by Minnie Payne

Tom FlanaganWhen 61-year-old Vice President of Trauma Service Line and System Integration at Memorial Hermann Health System Tom Flanagan graduated from high school in 1973, he didn’t dream that in 2006 he would be promoted to Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center is home to the Memorial Hermann Red Duke Trauma Institute, a Level 1 trauma center (the very highest level of trauma designation available through the American College of Surgeons) in the Greater Houston area.  The Memorial Hermann Red Duke Trauma Institute is the busiest Level 1 trauma center in the United States.

A trauma center is an area of a hospital equipped to treat the most high-risk of injuries, e.g., gunshot wounds, injuries resulting from a serious car crash, major burns, etc.  Trauma centers typically offer more extensive care than a typical emergency department.  

Eleven years later, Flanagan is proving himself to the point that he is revered by Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center Hospital staff for his leadership.

Flanagan’s mother was a full-time nurse when he was growing up and had a great influence on him.  “My mom inspired me to get into the medical field and talked to me about becoming a nurse,” he states.  “I really wasn’t sure that I could do the schooling, because everyone with whom I talked said that it was grueling.  I did research and one thing that really stood out and resonated with me was respiratory therapy.”

He went on to study respiratory therapy at St. Francis Hospital & Medical Center in Hartford, Conn., while also working there. “I worked all through my education and training years.  I also worked as a waiter and for an answering service which serviced physicians’ offices, funeral homes, and other similar entities.”  

In 1978, an older brother was transferred through his job from Connecticut to Houston, and Flanagan visited him and his family.  Connecticut had a terrible blizzard that year, and Flanagan was tired of dealing with snow.    
His brother convinced him to move to Houston and pushed him into becoming a nurse.  He worked as a respiratory therapist at Houston Northwest Medical Center and started to attend North Harris County College (now Lone Star College) to pursue an associate degree in nursing, working full-time all the while.

Tom Flanagan “In 1983, I graduated from Harris County College and took a job as an emergency room nurse at Houston Northwest Medical Center.  That’s how my career started,” he shares. “I worked there until 1985 and then came to work at Hermann Hospital (now Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center) in the emergency department.  In 1986, I was recruited to be a flight nurse for Life Flight.”

From there, he returned to school, earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing from UT Health School of Nursing in 1994. He is proud to have received a Distinguished Alumnus Award from the school.  In 2001, he received a master’s in organizational management from the University of Phoenix.  

In 1989, he became chief flight nurse and also manager of the emergency department at Hermann Hospital.  In 1994, he was offered the administrative director role for Life Flight and emergency services, prior to his becoming Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in 2006. In October 2017, he will have been with Memorial Hermann 32 years.
Flanagan was born in Hartford, Conn. and grew up in the small suburban town of Rocky Hill, Conn.  He is the youngest of five children, with two older brothers and two older sisters.  His mom was a full-time nurse, and his dad was a truck driver for Associated Grocers throughout the New England states.  In those days, there was no childcare, so his mom worked the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, and his dad worked during the day, so that a parent would be with the children at all times.  “I grew up in a typical Irish Catholic family,” he says.
The darkest day in his career was July 17, 1999, when a Life Flight helicopter, on which he was not a passenger, crashed.  “I lost three crew members. The Life Flight team was really close-knit.  In a small team, you get to know one another personally and professionally.  That was my darkest period to try to get the employees through a difficult time and also be there for their families,” he recalls.  

When asked what he enjoys most about his job, he says that it’s actually the interactions he continues to have with patients, families, physicians, and staff.  “I’m a people person and really the part that I like most is getting to interact with these people every day.”  

His professional goals for Memorial Hermann are to continue to help lead the organization into becoming a nationally recognized health system that is known for its high reliability and safety, one that serves as a destination point for physicians, staff, and patients.  His personal goals are to continue spending more time with his siblings, nieces, and nephews and to enjoy life as he knows it.  

Flanagan celebrates 25 years with his husband, and he has two dogs – Gracie and Beau.