New county health CEO wins praise for fiscal skills

  • By Alex Parker
  • Staff Writer
  • March 03, 2009 @ 4:10 PM

William Foley, the newly minted CEO of the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, begins work in May, arriving from California, far from the reaches of business-as-usual Chicago.

The choice of the outsider, whose experience shoring up ailing hospital systems looks good in a tight economy, marks an important step for the newly independent hospital system's board.

“I think it’s their choice, 100 percent their influence,” says County Commissioner Larry Suffredin. “The things that they have done to put more transparency into the system for the taxpayers and the patients would never have happened if they didn’t exist.”

The heatlh system split off from the county government and became a free-standing agency last year.

Foley, named the health system’s new CEO yesterday, was unanimously chosen by the nine-member board, which used a national executive search firm to recruit him.

“He’s the right man for the job at this time,” says Dr. David Ansell, a board member and chief medical officer of Rush University Medical Center.

“Everything I know about his background tells me that he has the skills and the management experience to do what we need,” Suffredin says. “He would really be the first professional health administrator to run the county system in our history. I’m encouraged about everything I’ve seen.”

Foley brings 35 years of experience in hospital administration, and more than 20 as a CEO.

Suffredin says the new CEO must work to maximize the influx of federal and state dollars the county system is set to receive in 2009 and other challenges, including managing a plan to slash about 1,000 jobs from the system.

“I think he is going to have to deal with a lot of personnel issues because the board has indicated they would like to increase medical staff and end up cutting overall positions,” he says.

Foley’s resume includes numerous instances of helping hospitals reverse financial decline, and he takes over a county health system recently was denied $14.2 million in funds from county commissioners.

As president and CEO of Provena Health in Mokena, Foley oversaw a system that operated at a $28.4 million loss in his first year of 2001. It grew to an operating gain of $1.4 million in 2002, and $24.5 in 2003.

Foley’s salary of $500,000 is far less than CEOs at other area hospitals and in the middle of the pack nationally, where CEOs of health systems in Tampa, Fla., Cleveland and Chattanooga, Tenn., make more.

County health system spokesman Marcel Bright says Foley, who has a master’s degree in hospital and health administration from Xavier University, is in Chicago today meeting with the heads of Stroger, Oak Forest and Provident hospitals.

Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17