Wednesday, May 03, 2000
Resignation signals change for hospitals
Health Alliance CEO steps down
By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The announced resignation of Jack Cook, chief executive of the Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati, portends another wave of change for the Tristate's biggest hospital group.
But it remained too early Tuesday to predict what kinds of reorganizations may occur and how those changes might affect services to Tristate residents.
We are in the midst of a review of where we are, where we need to be and how to get there, said alliance board director Robert Kanter. While we have accomplished a lot, it is clear that we must transform ourselves to a more cohesive system in order to continue to serve our community for the long term.
Mr. Cook's announcement comes several months after speculation last fall that Christ Hospital was considering pulling out of the Health Alliance. That speculation had been fueled by more than $88 million in losses over two fiscal years.
However, the Health Alliance financial picture has improved said spokeswoman Gail Myers.
As of March, the Health Alliance had lost $9.9 million in fiscal 2000, which ends June 30. That compares to losses exceeding $29 million during the first nine months of fiscal 1999, Ms. Myers said.
Mr. Cook's resignation does not mean that the future of the Health Alliance will change or that we will revisit decisions that have been made in the past, Ms. Myers said.
However, others expect the resignations to have long-term impact.
It would be naive to think there won't be other changes made, said Russell Dean, executive director of the Academy of Medicine of Greater Cincinnati. Anytime there are changes at the top, there are ripple effects throughout the organization.
The Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati was formed in concept in February 1994. After the departure of Terry White, chief executive of University Hospital, Mr. Cook, top administrator at Christ Hospital since 1983, was named CEO for both hospitals.
The alliance was billed as necessary for the survival of once-competing hospitals pinched by cost-cutting pressure from employers, insurers and the government.
Since then, the Health Alliance has grown to include the Jewish, St. Luke and Fort Hamilton-Hughes Memorial hospitals. With employment exceeding 13,000, the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce ranks the Health Alliance as the Tristate's fifth-largest employer.
Over the years, the Health Alliance has closed Jewish Hospital in Avondale, expanded the Jewish Hospital in Kenwood, converted the public University Hospital into a private nonprofit, and invested millions in forming doctor groups called Alliance Physicians and Surgeons and Alliance Primary Care.
Along the way, the alliance has made an estimated $90 million in budget cuts and cut hundreds of hospital jobs.
I can't think of anyone who has been through quite as many changes. He's been through everything, said Lynn Olman, president of the Greater Cincinnati Health Council.
Dan Gahl, administrator for UC Physicians, said he was not surprised by Mr. Cook's resignation.
When you look around the country, whoever puts these things together usually is not the one who keeps them running, he said.
Julie Hanser, chief executive of Mercy Health Partners, said Mr. Cook faced an awesome challenge in trying to blend the cultures of what had been five distinct, competing health care companies.
The initial builder has to send out a lot of difficult messages. The challenge of that was very, very great, she said.
Some health care watchers predict that doctors will notice the first changes stemming from new leadership at the Health Alliance.
A significant piece of the Alliance strategy has been the acquisition and merging of physician practices. This move could signal an exit from that strategy, said Dale Bradford, a partner in the Scheller Bradford Group,
While the turnaround plan orchestrated by Mr. Cook may have brought some financial stability, his departure does not signal an end to change for the Health Alliance or any other hospital in town.
Personally I believe the hospital industry is in for as much change in the next five years as it has faced in the past five years, Mr. Bradford said.
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