County Health officials ‘on full tilt’ to replace ousted CEO, planning to interview candidates as early as May or June

The search for a new Cook County Health CEO began when the board decided not to renew the contract of Dr. John Jay Shannon in November. Shannon turned out to be just the first domino to fall.

SHARE County Health officials ‘on full tilt’ to replace ousted CEO, planning to interview candidates as early as May or June
Former Cook County Health CEO John Jay Shannon

Then Cook County Health CEO John Jay Shannon addresses the Sun-Times Editorial Board in 2016. He was ousted from that role last November.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times files

Surging ahead with their search for a top Cook County health care leader despite the coronavirus pandemic, officials said Thursday they expect to begin interviewing candidates starting in “May or June at the latest” while warning of a “very tough year ahead of us financially.”

In a virtual meeting of Cook County Health System’s board of directors Thursday, M. Hill Hammock, chair of the board, said the search for a new full-time CEO has been operating “on full tilt.”

The search firm tasked with finding a new leader of the health system, Heidrick and Struggles, has reached out to “over 180 different sources and lists and contacts to identify potential candidates,” he said

“In fact, later today in closed session, we will make the first review of that list, which they have produced and will then hopefully after that set up interviews in the future, May or June at the latest, to look at a number of candidates,” Hammock said.

The search for a new CEO began when the board of directors decided not to renew the contract of former CEO Dr. John Jay Shannon in November, ousting him from the role and slotting Debra Carey, then the deputy CEO of the health system, as Interim CEO beginning Jan. 1, during the search for a permanent replacement.

Dr. John Jay Shannon, then CEO of the Cook County Health System, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in 2017.

Dr. John Jay Shannon, then CEO of the Cook County Health System, looks on as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle during a news conference in 2017.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Shannon turned out to be just the first domino to fall.

In February, the county health system’s chief financial officer, Ekerete Akpan, was let go. Carey said in a memo at the time that she hoped “that these initial steps will provide us all with a deeper understanding of the current financial situation as well as a plan that will include specific strategies moving forward.”

Then, earlier this month, Dr. Terry Mason, chief operating officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health, was shown the door.

Dr. Terry Mason, left; Ekerete Akpan, right.

Dr. Terry Mason, left, then chief operating officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health, in February; Ekerete Akpan, right, Cook County Health system’s former chief financial officer.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times; cookcountyhealth.org

At the Thursday meeting, Hammock shed more light on the decision to oust Akpan, saying that his handling of estimates for how much help the health system would need from the county’s Board of Commissioners meant the board wasn’t able to “allocate to us significant increases in support, and we had to make do with the numbers we had.”

“We didn’t see the real terrific stress on the budget until February, because in January we were still closing the books on last year and didn’t have a complete financial report,” Hammock said. “So, February was the first time we saw the big dislocation between the budget that we had and [the] reality of what we were seeing in terms of increased care increased expenses. ... It was a shock to us to see such a disconnect, and as a result we terminated our chief financial officer.”

Akpan’s role is now being filled by three people: Andrea Gibson, who serves as the interim chief business officer and has “deep budget experience; another, interim, financial person, and a CPA consultant, Hammock said.

“I think we’re making progress on understanding where we are and what we need to do, but we will present that hopefully in … May, where we will have a better understanding of the COVID impact what kind of relief we’ll get from COVID, as well as our own budget issues so that’s how we got to where we are and we have a very tough year ahead of us financially,” Hammock said.

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