This yr was among the many most difficult of Israel Rocha Jr.’s profession. And the months to return possible received’t be a cakewalk, both.
After operating two of New York Metropolis’s busiest hospitals throughout the first U.S. wave of COVID-19, Rocha is about to take the helm at Prepare dinner County’s public well being system, simply as hospitals right here brace for an additional virus surge.
Like many hospital and clinic leaders, 42-year-old Rocha will face stress to handle tectonic shifts in well being care, pushed partly by new cost fashions, and rein in mounting working prices. However in contrast to a lot of these leaders, Rocha additionally will likely be answerable for an insurance coverage firm, medical providers for detainees on the Prepare dinner County Division of Corrections and the county’s Division of Public Well being. He’ll do all of it whereas navigating a public well being disaster that has resulted in 76,000 COVID instances and greater than 2,300 deaths in suburban Prepare dinner County alone.
“The legacy and fame of this group shouldn’t be misplaced on me,” Rocha stated in an interview this week, because the Prepare dinner County Laws & Intergovernmental Relations Committee voted to approve his appointment. The transfer is predicted to be confirmed by the Prepare dinner County Board as we speak. His begin date continues to be being labored out.
“My first precedence is to hear . . . and to grasp what the wants are,” Rocha stated. “After which I wish to do an analysis of our operations and see what we’re doing effectively, what we will do higher and the way we will make that occur as a crew.”
That method has served Rocha effectively as a vice chairman at NYC Well being & Hospitals, the biggest public well being system within the nation, the place he’s been CEO of 545-bed Elmhurst Hospital since 2016 and CEO of 253-bed Queens Hospital since earlier this yr. NYC Well being has a complete annual finances of $eight billion. Prepare dinner County Well being’s finances this yr is $three.four billion.
Elmhurst Hospital “is in essentially the most ethnically numerous a part of our total nation, with immigrants from all kinds of nations, and he’s universally beloved,” NYC Well being & Hospitals CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz stated. “He does these avenue excursions the place he walks with the docs and meets varied storekeepers. He works intently with group teams.”
Rocha demonstrated his dedication to serving the group by increasing hospital capability, amongst different initiatives, throughout the pandemic, Katz stated, noting that the 2 hospitals Rocha ran had been hit hardest out of all 11 within the community.
“In some ways, the truth that individuals saved coming to Elmhurst, and felt secure to go to Elmhurst, was an affidavit to the work he and his colleagues did on the hospital,” Katz stated.
However the inflow of COVID instances at Elmhurst and Queens led Rocha to droop his candidacy for the highest spot at Prepare dinner County Well being, which was battling the pandemic and not using a everlasting chief. As time glided by and social distancing caught on, the variety of instances and hospitalizations fell in New York Metropolis—in addition to within the Chicago space—and Rocha was capable of decide up the place he left off within the county’s CEO hiring course of.
Along with his expertise serving a various group, Rocha would be the first everlasting Latino CEO of Prepare dinner County Well being, which treats giant numbers of poor and uninsured sufferers, a lot of whom are Black and Brown.
With African American and Latino communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, “it’s a very acceptable time for an individual of shade to be main this method,” stated Prepare dinner County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
The importance shouldn’t be misplaced on Rocha, who grew up in a small South Texas group a minimum of 300 miles away from specialised medical care. Whereas Rocha stated the gap wasn’t a barrier for his dad and mom, an educator and a manufacturing facility employee, he noticed the toll it took on household and buddies.
“Rising up in that method, once you don’t have these providers available, it leaves you with an impression that we’ve got to struggle to extend entry,” Rocha stated. “It made a significant change in my life to see what can occur once you don’t have well being care.”
A deal with growing entry to care has been a mainstay all through Rocha’s profession, from engaged on well being coverage on Capitol Hill to main safety-net hospitals that deal with sufferers no matter their capability to pay.
When he takes the helm at Prepare dinner County Well being, commissioners will look to Rocha to leverage the work he did at Elmhurst Hospital—together with growing affected person income and securing further funds for infrastructure enhancements—to construct monetary energy whereas lowering gaps in care right here.
And with a brand new CEO on board, Preckwinkle stated Prepare dinner County Well being can resume plans to construct a $240 million facility to exchange Provident Hospital in Bronzeville. The brand new facility, which was permitted by the state late final yr, will deal with outpatient providers to stop sufferers on the South Facet from having to journey to Stroger Hospital, about eight miles away.
Amongst challenges Rocha will face main the well being system, Preckwinkle stated the rising burden of uncompensated care is towards the highest of the checklist. The system’s two hospitals supplied greater than half of all free take care of low-income sufferers—about $348 million price—within the county in 2018, based on the newest state knowledge accessible.
“Clearly, the opposite suppliers within the Prepare dinner County ecosystem should not carrying their weight, and methods to get them to do this has eluded me to this point,” stated Preckwinkle, including that she met with quite a few native well being system CEOs earlier than the pandemic to debate Prepare dinner County Well being’s disproportionate share of charity care.
As well as, the well being care system is bracing for a possible repeal of the Inexpensive Care Act, which may lead to greater than 300,000 Prepare dinner County residents dropping protection. Oral arguments are scheduled to start Nov. 10 within the U.S. Supreme Courtroom to find out the destiny of the landmark well being care legislation, which expanded the state’s Medicaid program and established a medical health insurance market for uninsured people, amongst different protections.
Prepare dinner County Well being estimates the affect on the well being system of an ACA rollback could be roughly $1.four billion yearly, together with elevated uncompensated care prices and misplaced income from CountyCare and different Medicaid managed care plans.
“In relation to federal reimbursement and coverage, there’s a set quantity of funds, and we use these to fund our hospitals in several methods by means of completely different applications,” Rocha stated. “Any time that’s modified, you could see what’s coming ahead. I might at all times advocate to ensure safety-net programs are lined and that they’re empowered to render care.”
As CEO, Rocha will get a base wage of $650,000 with a 10 p.c annual bonus alternative. He’ll transfer to Chicago quickly after his appointment is confirmed. He stated his spouse, a prosecutor for the U.S. Division of Justice, will to hitch him right here ultimately.
Whereas Rocha stated he plans to lean on clinicians, group members and different stakeholders to shortly stand up to hurry, he does have some perception from two former Prepare dinner County Well being leaders.
Dr. Ram Raju, who led the system till 2014, when he took over at NYC Well being & Hospitals, employed Rocha in New York. There, Rocha additionally labored alongside William Foley, Raju’s predecessor at Prepare dinner County Well being.
Requested what recommendation the previous system CEOs gave him about operating Prepare dinner County’s public well being community, Rocha stated they advised him, “Ensure that so as to add to its legacy and its capability to serve.”