HearUSA’s wedding was marred briefly by a relative on the Canadian side named Duke Rodriguez who stood up and objected when the marriage officiant asked if there were objections to the marriage[1]. Consequently, he was paid lots of money to stay away from the reception.  As far as I can tell, Duke left the hearing industry alone after that, but makes for a footnote interesting enough to document in a post or two.

Duke was in a league of his own — I doubt any of the other players were prepared for this Dude.  After graduating in Accounting from New Mexico State University (NMSU) in 1979,[2] he went to work at Lovelace Clinic (Albuquerque) and rose quickly to VP/COO.  By 33 years of age, Duke had turned the sleepy little clinic into New Mexico’s largest HMO, jacked its revenues from $30 million to $260 million, hopped in bed with HCA and Equicore, and sold it to Cigna in 1990. [3] As the chief of medical staff at Lovelace put it[4]“We lost our autonomy. We were definitely sold out.”  Go Duke!

Riding the managed care wave, Duke worked his magic briefly in 1994 as COO of Diagnostek, a mail-order pharmaceutical company. He increased revenues so fast that Fortune Magazine named Diagnostek the 22nd best performing stock in March of 1994[5].  Despite talking about big future plans for the company, Duke was out less than two months later “to pursue other interests” [6].

Three years later, in 1997, Duke resurfaced as Secretary of Human Services in the cabinet of New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.  Hard to believe, but Duke immediately convinced HCFA to grant a waiver to the state in order to privatize Medicaid into a program called PROGRESS.  The Albuquerque Journal summarized his approach:

“With extremely limited input from advocates, consumers, the state legislature and state health, mental health and children’s and family departments, Rodriguez designed and pushed through his own plan.”

Duke’s Wild West style earning him the coveted Cow Chip Award in 1997:

During a Medicaid reform meeting, state Human Services Secretary Duke Rodriguez leaped up, walked across the top of the conference table and took control of the meeting from Health Secretary Alex Valdez. Rodriguez later said he was only trying to get to the blackboard and “It’s not odd for me to walk across a table. I’ve been known to do it many times in my career.”

True to form, Duke was back on the street by October 1997. This time he made the LA Times, which described him as “combative.” His cabinet resignation followed allegations of conflict of interest and kickbacks in a multimillion dollar Medicaid fraud, showing that while he might have been able to walk on tables, he couldn’t walk on water.”

It’s hard to keep a good cowboy down. Three years later, the Albuquerque Journal ran this headline:   Former state Cabinet secretary developing Internet side of hearing aids.  Can you imagine Duke and hearing aids?  Can you imagine Dr Brown and Duke in the same room?  Stay tuned!

photo courtesy of swungover

References    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Just in case this ever comes up, here’s a site that tells you the etiquette for objecting to weddings 
  2. Full disclosure:  I graduated from NMSU in 1972 and 1974 but missed the pleasure of meeting Duke at any beer busts on the Rio Grande.  I am awed that we trod the same ground.
  3. Diagnostek Appoints Duke Rodriguez COO 
  4. The road from specialty center to staff-model HMO. (Lovelace Health Systems). Medical Economics | July 24, 1995 
  5. Pharmaceutical Company Gets Shot in the Arm
  6. Diagnostek Announces Duke Rodriguez’ Resignation 

One Response to Duke was a Dude: Unraveling HearUSA part 10

  1. Mike Metz says:

    My Goodness! I thought I remembered a lot about HeaRx, but you have really frosted this cake. To hell with the economy, flooding, hurricanes and politics, this is the first thing I read on Thursdays.

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