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Cook County Health CEO out at the end of 2019 after hospital system opts against renewing his contract

Friday, November 22, 2019
Chicago Tribune
by Lolly Bowean

The current head of Cook County Health will be leaving his post next month, after the hospital system’s board of directors on Friday decided not to renew his contract.

The move means that Dr. John Jay Shannon, who has served as the hospital system’s CEO since 2014, will leave his position at the end of the year. His current deputy, Debra D. Carey, will serve as interim CEO while the board searches for a replacement, officials said.


“I am immensely proud to have led the transformation of Cook County Health over the past five plus years,” Shannon said in a statement. “I respect the board’s decision to seek new leadership. … It has been an honor to lead this storied organization and critical community asset.”

The decision to remove Shannon from his post came just a day after the County Board approved a $6.2 billion spending plan with the smallest budget gap the county has seen in a decade.

But while that budget was celebrated because it wouldn’t raise taxes and included no new fees, the commissioners were warned that financial challenges loomed ahead because of the growing costs of providing health care for lower-income, uninsured and underinsured residents.

County President Toni Preckwinkle plans to spend the majority of her budget — about $2.8 billion — operating the county’s two hospitals. The county faces a projected budget gap of $109 million in 2021, in part, because of providing care for patients that doesn’t get paid for, Preckwinkle has said.

“I am grateful for Dr. John Jay Shannon’s leadership as CEO of Cook County Health,” Preckwinkle said in a statement. “During this time, Dr. Shannon has spearheaded the largest Medicaid health plan in the County, addressed social determinants of health and continued the County’s rich 180-year history and mission of providing care to all residents, regardless of ability to pay, insurance status or country of origin.”

The county operates two hospitals, Provident Hospital on the South Side and Stroger Hospital on the Near West Side. But those two facilities provide the bulk of charity care for lower-income and uninsured residents in the county, Preckwinkle has said.

During his tenure, Shannon led the hospital system through a transformation, but he faced tremendous financial pressures. Earlier this year, Shannon came under scrutiny after an investigative report revealed that the county health plan owed more than $700 million to vendors and providers — findings the health system disputed and an outside firm it hired also refuted. A second separate report found that several senior hospital executives received hefty pay raises without going through the proper protocol and providing the proper paperwork.



On Thursday, after the board approved Preckwinkle’s spending plan, Shannon blamed the region’s private hospitals in part for the county’s financial woes, saying they were not doing enough to care for needy patients.

He said he wanted to see other hospitals offer more services to uninsured, needy patients so that the county didn’t have to provide so much uncompensated care. He also said his work focused on making the county’s hospital a destination for paying customers to help balance out the amount of charity care offered.

“Our strategy is to try to improve the likelihood that the health system will be used as a destination of choice by people who have insurance,” he said. “We’re doing that by improving facilities, with the help of the county board, by improving the hours and the breadth of services and the locations that we’re providing those services. We’re significantly improving the way we do revenue capture.”

Still, there was no public indication that Shannon’s contract was not going to be renewed until Friday.

The health and hospital system’s board conducted its regular business. Then the group went into executive session and made the decision to let Shannon go, Commissioner Larry Suffredin, 13th, said.

“I think that Jay had a very good run, and he’s done a great job of stabilizing our health care system,” he said. “I think the board felt the future is very dependent upon this uncompensated care, and they wanted someone with new strategies. They wanted a fresh set of eyes to deal with the future.”

Commissioner Bridget Gainer, 10th, said five years is a good term. And while Shannon focused on improving the health care services, his successor will have to be more attuned to the health system’s finances.

“There was no one who worked with (Shannon) that didn’t know he had a strong commitment to the mission — which was to serve anyone who needed health care and who came through those doors,” she said. “He strengthened the health care options and that was his strong point.”

But “the head of the hospital system also has to operate within a political realm, and that was more of a challenge for Dr. Shannon,” Gainer said.

Shannon was one of the highest paid employees of Cook County. In 2017, the last figures available, he brought in more than $540,000, records show. He has been recognized by industry officials as one of the great leaders in health care.

Twitter @lollybowean




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