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Billy Ocasio, Board Chair of Norwegian American Hospital, Chicago, winner of the Large Hospital 2014 Trustee of the Year award

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By Sabriya Rice

Posted: February 15, 2014 – 12:01 am ET

When Billy Ocasio learned that Norwegian American, the hospitalwhere he was born, was in danger of shutting its doors, he knew right away he needed to get involved. As a native of Humboldt Park, a largely Puerto Rican community on Chicago’s northwest side where Norwegian is located, Ocasio says the hospital has always played a critical role in the working-class community. The loss would have been tremendous.

“There are so many families that cannot afford medical care, supplies or food,” he said. “For a community like this, where you have a lot of people uninsured or underinsured, the hospital means a lot.”

After serving 16 years as a city council member representing the Humboldt Park area, in 2009 Ocasio joined the board of Norwegian, a 200-bed, acute care facility originally established in the late 1800s. He was named to the selection committee to search for a new CEO and knew he wanted someone with the skills and experience to pull the hospital out of dire straits who also connected with the community.

Ocasio’s committee selected Jose Sánchez, who at the time was the senior vice president of Generations+/Northern Manhattan Health Network in New York City. “One of the first questions (Ocasio) asked me was about my involvement in New York with the Puerto Rican and Latino communities,” recalls Sanchez, who accepted the position as president and CEO in 2010, moving to Chicago from the Bronx. “Mr. Ocasio wanted to make sure the person elected would bridge the gap between the hospital and the community.” Last year, Ocasio was elected to serve as chairman of the board of trustees for Norwegian.

Sánchez says he has continued to be impressed by Ocasio’s relentless and proactive efforts to create opportunities to bridge the gap between residents and the hospital, and to engage the community in battling health disparities.

For his accomplishments, Ocasio, 52, is Modern Healthcare’s 2014 Trustee of the Year for large hospitals, those with 100 or more beds.

One of Ocasio’s most noteworthy efforts is his role in Hope Fest, considered to be the largest back-to-school event in Chicago. Started in 2006 by New Life Covenant Church, the end-of-summer festival provides free resources, including school uniforms, notebooks, groceries and haircuts, to ensure children start the school year with everything they need. The church had been holding the event in Humboldt Park. But in 2012 Ocasio saw an opportunity for Norwegian American to get involved. He worked with the hospital and the Rev. Wilfredo DeJesus, pastor of New Life Covenant, to move the event from the park to the hospital grounds. The festival, which already included free medical screenings, dental care and health education, added volunteer aid from the hospital’s physicians, nurses and emergency services staff.

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