Move quickly on health care strategies

UIC News
June 15, 2011

The need: high-quality, cost-effective health care for the people of Illinois, attacking the disparities between disease and mortality that exist among different populations.

The challenges: a highly competitive health care market, an aging facility and a state in financial crisis.

The opportunity: the refocusing of health care services into a university-wide "clinical enterprise," said Joe G.N. "Skip" Garcia, named the university's vice president for health affairs at Thursday's meeting of the Board of Trustees in Chicago.

"We have to move quickly," said Garcia, whose appointment is effective June 16.

Garcia, who joined UIC as vice chancellor for research in February 2010, was named interim vice president four months ago — one of two university-level vice president positions created through aministrative restructuring.

In announcing Garcia's appointment to the permanent position in a June 3 email, President Michael Hogan called him "the ideal person for the job."

In a town hall May 26, Garcia outlined his strategy for bringing various elements together under the proposed name "University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System":

• the health science colleges, hospital, outpatient clinics and health centers in Chicago

• the health sciences campuses and programs at Peoria, Rockford, Urbana-Champaign and the Quad Cities

• two affiliated hospitals, Stroger in Chicago and MacNeal/Vanguard in the western suburbs.

"This brings together all clinical aspects of the university's enterprise," Garcia said in an interview Thursday after his appointment was approved.

"In the past, we were not able to integrate the health sciences colleges, hospital and other health care components as effectively as we wanted to. This alignment allows us the opportunity to do just that."

This "enterprise-wide thinking" will help improve efficiency in support services — for instance, avoiding duplication in areas like billing, Garcia said.

"There are many important things we will be able to do better," he added. "Sometimes we've been working at cross-purposes. Everyone will be paddling in the same direction, so to speak."

Garcia said he plans to use the university's strengths to deliver personalized medicine, focusing on the medically underserved Latino and African American populations in the hospital's primary service areas.

This includes a new emphasis on "marquee programs" that are among the best in Chicago for research and treatment, he said, including liver and kidney transplantation, sickle cell anemia, stroke and neurovascular surgery, corneal retinopathy and mental illnesses such as autism and schizophrenia.

Garcia, a self-described "physician-scientist," was formerly chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Johns Hopkins University and chair of medicine at University of Chicago.

"Its mission is what attracted me to the University of Illinois," he said.

"My career has had a single theme: to be impactful. This is an institution that shares that mission — working to improve health care to the underserved."