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Cook County Health CEO ousted by board
Board of Health members voted unanimously not to renew John Jay Shannon’s contract Friday.

Friday, November 22, 2019
Chicago Sun-Times
by Rachel Hinton

The Board of Cook County Health voted Friday to oust Dr. John Jay Shannon, the CEO of the county’s health arm.

All 10 members present at the meeting Friday voted not to renew Shannon’s contract, which expires Dec. 31. The board named Debra Carey, the deputy CEO of the health system, as Interim CEO beginning Jan. 1, while Cook County Health searches for a permanent replacement.

County sources and commissioners have said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle — who appoints the 11-member board — has been concerned with the direction of the health system.

Preckwinkle’s spokesman, however, denied she had any role in the vote, and in a statement, the county’s top official said she was grateful to Shannon.

“This is a critical moment for the future of Cook County Health,” the statement said. “Now is the time for new [Cook County Health] leadership and vision to continue to fulfill the health system’s historic charitable mission while directly addressing the tough financial and operational challenges ahead.”

As CEO, Shannon is the head of the county’s $2.8 billion health operation overseeing Stroger and Provident hospitals as well as health care at Cook County Jail and other county sites.

Shannon, whose salary is $517,500, said he’s “immensely proud to have led the transformation of Cook County Health” over the past five years.

“I believe we have positioned the health system to carry out its critical role in the healthcare community in Cook County for years to come,” Shannon said in a statement. “I respect the board’s decision to seek new leadership. I thank the employees, the medical staff and the executive team for their unwavering commitment to our patients.”

Commissioner Dennis Deer, a member of the health board who represents the county’s Board of Commissioners at health meetings, said it was time to switch course.

“He’s a competent individual and a great leader, but there comes a time in any organization where a person has taken them as far as they can lead them and then there needs to be a change in leadership … to move the organization to the next level,” said Deer, a Democrat from Chicago.

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, said he was stunned by the move, which was first reported by WBEZ.

He attributed Shannon’s removal to concerns surrounding the growth in uncompensated care. The amount of care the county provides but isn’t paid for grew by $104 million between 2017 and 2019, and projections for 2020 see the total amount continuing to grow to $590 million. Preckwinkle has previously said the level of uncompensated care presents a “principal challenge” for the upcoming fiscal year.

In addition, the system has had to make cutbacks recently, including slashing 638 vacant positions, including nurses and care coordinators, to balance its 2020 budget.

Still, Suffredin praised Shannon.

“He’s come up with some innovative approaches to both the delivery of medicine and the delivery of the county care insurance program,” he said.

One of the only two Republicans on the county board agreed that a change was necessary. Sean Morrison, R-Palos Park, said although he likes Shannon personally, new leadership is “long overdue and a positive change for the administrative aspects of the health system.”

“We have world class doctors and nurses there and the best equipment that government can buy, our problem has always been administrative,” he said. “The reason we’re hemorrhaging [money] is because it lacks administrative policies and procedures.” He said “someone had to be held accountable … and Preckwinkle said enough is enough.”



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