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Founder of first publicly owned hospital company

From a Times Staff Writer

Uranus j. “bob” appel, a bacteriologist and entrepreneur who founded the first publicly owned hospital management company and in the process changed medical care in the United States, has died. He was 91.

Appel, who had been in failing health for several years following a stroke, died Sunday at his home in Playa del Rey, his son, Mark, said.

While running a firm that provided lab services to hospitals in Southern California in the 1950s, Appel noticed two things: “These doctors didn’t know how to run hospitals,” he told The Times in 1983, and hospital operations bore a striking similarity to a hotel-restaurant operation -- “provided you understood the medical units.”

“If you put those elements together,” Appel told The Times, “you could run a hospital just as efficiently as a hotel.”

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Appel saw his opportunity in 1960, when two of his client hospitals in Los Angeles foundered. Rather than lose them as customers, he took his small firm public, raised $180,000 by selling stock at $2.25 a share, and acquired them.

“In those early days,” Appel said, “I would go to Wall Street, meet with stockbrokers and try to interest them in a publicly financed hospital company. They would point to the Standard & Poor’s listing and note that there was no such company nor industry. I told them: ‘Yes, there is, and I am it.’ ”

Within 10 years, stock in his firm, American Medical International, was trading on the New York Stock Exchange, a first for the newly developing industry.

Appel was born in Pittsburgh on March 24, 1917. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1938 and served in the Army Medical Corps during World War II. After the war, he moved to Southern California, which he had first seen as a child on a family vacation. He tried his hand at a number of endeavors, including oil, gold mines, record companies and whiskey importing, his son said.

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But after marrying and starting a family, Appel settled for the more stable medical diagnostic business. His firm, originally called Medlabs, grew steadily after his initial stock offering and expanded throughout the United States and into Europe.

By 1976, it was operating in more than 200 communities in the United States and had more than 11,000 full-time employees in England, France and Switzerland.

He was president of the company until 1974 and retired as chairman in 1979. By the end of the 1970s the firm’s revenue was more than $500 million. The firm is now a wholly owned subsidiary of American Medical Holdings Inc.

In addition to his son, Appel is survived by his wife, Margaret; two grandchildren; a sister; and a brother.

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news.obits@latimes.com


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