Robert Slaton, a health-care consultant and former Kentucky public-health commissioner who was a catalyst for various health-improvement projects in the state, including Passport Health Plan and Kentucky Health News, died Dec. 27 after suffering a stroke a few days earlier. He was 81 and lived in Louisville.
Slaton, who had master’s degrees in education and social work and a doctorate in education administration, was state health commissioner in 1978-79, then ran the Public Service Institute at Kentucky State University and was external-affairs administrator for Trover Clinic, now Baptist Health Deaconness Madisonville, his hometown, from 1983 to 1989. While at the University of Louisville, he was Gov. Brereton Jones’ special assistant for health-care reform, executive director of the university’s primary-care center, executive director of the Medical School Practice Association and executive vice president of University Health Care, retiring in 2007. As primary-care director, Slaton was part of a small group that planned, developed, and implemented Passport Health Plan, which started in 1997 and became a national model for managed care of Medicaid patients.
As a member of the national advisory board of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, he was the catalyst for funding of the institute’s Kentucky Health News by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. Sitting with Institute Director Al Cross and then-Foundation President Susan Zepeda at a Kentucky Chamber of Commerce luncheon in 2010, he said, “Al, you ought to ask Susan for some money.” When Zepeda asked what the money would be for, Cross (who had no idea the proposition was coming) replied that the goal would be improving health coverage in Kentucky news media. The foundation continues to fund Kentucky Health News.
Slaton later chaired the advisory board, helping the Institiute develop a strategic plan. He was a member of the foundation’s Community Advisory Council and chair of the chamber’s Health Care Policy Council. In 2018, he won the Russell E. Teague Award from the Kentucky Public Health Association for his achievements and contributions to public health.
“Throughout his career in both public service and as a health-care consultant, he provided a politically savvy perspective and an astute management style that enabled institutions and organizations to make significant headway in policy change to improve the health of Kentuckians,” his obituary says. “Robert always believed that health care was a right, not a commodity, and he worked very hard in a variety of settings to help move it in that direction.”
As health commissioner, “He demonstrated an understanding of social and structural determinants of health that was ahead of its time,” the obituary says. “Robert was a consensus builder and a natural organizer who was described as generous and down-to-earth. His talents included problem solving, strategic planning, and organizing a group of people to get a project done. He was proud that over his career he had helped young staff members develop beyond what they thought they could do. He could often see what needed to be done before most people, and he could handle personalities and egos to bring about change in organizations. Robert focused much of his career on building linkages and coalitions between different groups. This was eased by his genuine rapport with people. Robert’s strategic planning skills, insightful opinions, and wise counsel were valued by many leaders in the business, nonprofit, and political world.”
He was co-author of two books about management, From Green Persimmons to Cranky Parrots, and Caught in the Middle Management. At the time of his death, he was working on a book about his mother’s life, based on the diaries she kept for decades. As he moved into assisted living, Robert was already making plans for his next book, stories of his colorful adventures as a parole officer in Western Kentucky in the 1960s. He was a delegate to the 1992 Democratic convention.
Slaton is survived by five adult children, Andrea, Lyle, Tom, Danny (Elizabeth), and Mike (Jake), and three grandchildren: Thia, Henry, and Lila. He is also survived by his companion, Mary B. Bradley, and her two children, whom he very much thought of as his own: Lizi Hagan and Clay McClure.