William Holcomb Kerns
November 16, 1929 – July 12, 2020
William Holcomb (Hoke) Kerns Sr., 90, of Wetumpka, AL, former head of Alabama’s Medicaid program, the Alabama Commission on Aging, and the Alabama Hospital Associating, died on Sunday, July 12, 2020. Mr. Kerns, who had been retired since 1986, was inducted in the Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame for his leadership roles in healthcare.
Born in Umatilla, Florida on November 16, 1929, Mr. Kerns was the son of William O. and Meryle H. Kerns. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida and subsequently did graduate study in communications at that university and graduate work in finance at Samford University. He served in the U.S. Army, attaining the rank of 2nd lieutenant while on active duty and the rank of major in the Army Reserve. His 19 years in the U.S. Army Reserve were grounded in artillery, as a member of the 121st U.S. Army Reserve Command Pistol Team.
It was in 1979 when Mr. Kerns became Commissioner of Alabama’s Medicaid program, officially known as the State of Alabama Medical Service Administration. In that same year, he became Executive Director of the Alabama Commission on Aging. During the two years he headed Alabama Medicaid, he led the program from a $43 million deficit to a $6 million surplus.
Between 1981 and 1984 he served as President and Chief Executive Office of the Alabama Hospital Association. During that time, he concurrently served as President of Alabama Diversified Health Services, Inc., President of the Alabama Hospital Associating Educational Trust, Chairman of the Alabama Hospital Association Fund, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Southeastern Hospital Conference, and Chairman of the Consortium of Southeastern Hospital Associations.
After his period of Alabama Hospital Association leadership, Mr. Kerns became Co-Founder and Chairman of Caduceus Capital Corporation, which provided access to less expensive capital financing and not-for-profit hospitals. Through his leadership in Caduceus Capitol, Mr. Kerns helped develop and operate a program that resulted in the availability of $800 million low-interest loans for not-for-profit hospitals in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Using his educational training in journalism and his skills as a writer and communicator, Mr. Kerns initially had a career focused on journalism – including a three-year period as Director of the Division of Informational Services at his alma mater, the University of Florida. In the 1950’s his work in journalism exposed him to patient-care activities and in the mid-1960’s his career began a transition into healthcare, quickly escalating into healthcare leadership roles. He became a member of a team of talented young leaders who came to Montgomery to take various leadership roles in the development of one of the fastest-growing private, not-for-profit healthcare systems in the nation – Birmingham-based Baptist Medical Centers (BMC). Mr. Kerns rose to be Executive Vice President of BMC’s overall operation and then to be the leader of one of its flagship hospitals – serving as Executive Vice President and Administrator of Baptist Medical Center-Princeton. Mr. Kerns said it was a concern for quality patient care that attracted him into healthcare and kept him on a health-related track. In his retirement years he reflected, “I enjoyed interaction with patient care better than anything I ever did.”
Through the decades, Mr. Kerns’ leadership and achievements garnered many awards and positions of honor. Among them were serving as President of the International Academy of Hospital Public Relations, receiving a presidential medallion from the University of Florida, and being the focus of commendation from the Alabama State Senate.
Mr. Kerns was a man of deep spiritual faith and a strong supporter of his community. He became an ordained Baptist deacon and later an active member of Mulder Memorial Methodist Church in Wetumpka, here he sang in the church’s gospel choir, In addition to positions of leadership he held in his work, over the years he helped improve services to citizens by sharing his expertise as a member of a number of community and health-related boards.
His range of interests was broad. He greatly enjoyed flying and became a licensed and instrument-rated pilot. He was a hunter and a marksman and in 1998 became a World Rimfire Benchrest Champion. With a lasting love and gift for writing, he became the author of more than 300 articles of healthcare, shooting, and hunting, and for years was a columnist for Precision Shooting Magazine.
His longtime wife Carolyn said of her husband, “Hoke was always a straight shooter.” She said her statement referred not only to his abilities as a marksman but also to the way he used truth and ethics to shoot straight with those he encountered along life’s journey.
Mr. Kerns was preceded in death by his loving wife Carolyn Campbell Kerns. He is survived by his daughter, Karen Belinda Kerns, RN, of Montgomery, Alabama; son, William Holcomb Kerns, Jr., LLB, Tallassee, Alabama; three grandsons, Matthew Hall (Brady), Spanish Fort, Alabama; Patrick Hall (Erin), Acmar, Georgia; and Blake Hall (Sagan), Birmingham, Alabama; and three great-granddaughters and three great-grandsons.
A graveside service will be held at Alabama Heritage Cemetery at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 18, 2020.
The family suggest that memorials be made to the Mulder Memorial Methodist Church Gospel Choir, care of Mulder Memorial Methodist Church, 3454 Fire Tower Road, Wetumpka, AL 36093.
- The family suggest that memorials be made to the Mulder Memorial Methodist Church Gospel Choir, care of Mulder Memorial Methodist Church, 3454 Fire Tower Road, Wetumpka, AL 36093.
Saturday, July 18, 2020
William Holcomb Kerns
August 3, 2020
Dorothy and I ever enjoyed our visits with Hoke at various Benchrest Tournaments. She would alway bake him an Apple Cake, if she knew he was going to be there. We will miss you Hoke, Say hello to Dorothy in Heaven for me.
July 16, 2020
I got to know Holk Kerns when he was Executive Vice President of BMC's - Princeton. My husband worked for him and I loved and admired him from my first meeting. My husband and I traveled with Carolyn and Holk and shared many memories of interesting dinner conversation. He was a fair and honest person with a good mind. He has great wit and you just enjoyed being around both Carolyn and him. He was a good leader and a great personal friend. I will miss him and Carolyn. The world was a better place because of both of them and their service to other people and health care in general.
July 16, 2020
I had the pleasure of representing him as a lawyer during his Alabama Hospital Assn tenure. As young as I was, he was as respectful and trusting as if I was his
peer. It seemed he dealt with everyone that way and it made the whole world a better place. Blessings and peace to him and all his family.
July 14, 2020
I knew Mr. Kerns Mainly by his reputation which was simply that of an outstanding public servant who rescued one of our state’s most important healthcare programs when it was on the verge of failure. His son is one of my good friends and I certainly hope that he and the family are celebrating the wonderful life and Legacy that he left behind.