Proving it takes a village: José R. Sánchez and Norwegian American’s remarkable turnaround

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By Tamara Rosin, Becker’s Hospital Review

When José R. Sánchez arrived at Chicago’s Norwegian American Hospital to serve as president and CEO in October 2010, the hospital was struggling to stay afloat.

Norwegian American, which serves a predominantly Medicaid and a poor Hispanic population in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, had its finances in the red. The hospital’s payer mix is 31 percent Medicare and 55 percent Medicaid, with just 1 percent of patients having commercial insurance. It had been under surveillance by CMS for several years for quality and safety issues and was on the verge of losing its Joint Commission accreditation. Records were still kept by pen and paper, physician engagement was weak and there was no relationship with the community.

Unlike most hospitals and health systems in the Midwest, Norwegian American is also challenged with future immigration reform, as high concentrations of undocumented immigrants who are not eligible for insurance seek medical care from the hospital.

Mr. Sánchez, who at the time was senior vice president of the Generations+/Northern Manhattan Health Network, one of the largest healthcare networks in the New York City Health and Hospital Corporation, saw Norwegian American as an opportunity. He could make a mark on his professional career, he explained, but he also felt a bigger connection to Chicago as a city.