Dr. Jay Shannon Out As CEO Of Cook County Health

Jay Shannon
Jay Shannon addresses Cook County Board members on July 25, 2019. Shannon announced Friday that he will step down as head of the Cook County health system. Mariah Woelfel, Kristen Schorsch / WBEZ
Jay Shannon
Jay Shannon addresses Cook County Board members on July 25, 2019. Shannon announced Friday that he will step down as head of the Cook County health system. Mariah Woelfel, Kristen Schorsch / WBEZ

Dr. Jay Shannon Out As CEO Of Cook County Health

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Updated: 5:01 p.m.

Dr. John Jay Shannon, who has been CEO of the Cook County-run public health system since 2014, is leaving his post, WBEZ has learned.

The health system’s board unanimously voted on Friday to end his contract, said County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston.

Shannon, 59, will stay on until the end of the year. Deputy CEO of Operations Debra Carey will be interim CEO while the health system board conducts a search.

“I am immensely proud to have led the transformation of Cook County Health over the past 5+ years,” Shannon said in an emailed statement Friday.

Shannon went on to tout his record of reducing the government-run health system’s reliance on taxpayer dollars, in large part because he helped grow CountyCare, the county’s Medicaid health insurance plan that has brought in much-needed revenue.

“I believe we have positioned the health system to carry out its critical role in the healthcare community in Cook County for years to come,” Shannon said.

Hospital board members declined to comment after Friday’s meeting.

But in an emailed statement, Democratic Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said, “Now is the time for new [Cook County Health] leadership and vision to continue to fulfill the health system’s historic charitable mission while directly addressing the tough financial and operational challenges ahead.”

Health system board chair Hill Hammock said the board chose not to renew Shannon contract.

“The Board will be seeking new ideas and leadership to address the System’s financial and service challenges,” Hammock said. “Fulfilling the broad service responsibilities of a public health care system, addressing the increase in charity care and ensuring the staff needed to deliver those services will require changes.”

Shannon, an asthma specialist, has spent the bulk of his career at the county health system. This year has been fraught with challenges for Shannon.

For one, he’s grappling with serious financial problems at the government-run health system. The amount of medical care Cook County Health is set to provide without getting reimbursed – which includes charity care – is estimated to reach nearly $600 million next year.

Cook County Health is one of the largest public health systems in the nation and is considered to be the medical safety net for the region, which means treating lots of poor and uninsured patients. The health system includes flagship John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital on the Near West Side, Provident Hospital on the South Side and a network of urban and suburban clinics.

And the health system’s financial health is vital to the county government’s bottom line.

Cook County Health makes up nearly half of the county’s overall $6.2 billion budget. In fact, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in October said the health system’s climbing amount of so-called uncompensated care is what scares her the most about the county’s 2020 budget.

Shannon has partly blamed the rise in uncompensated care on other hospitals that send their uninsured patients his way, especially those who need expensive treatments. In recent months, he’s been vocal about imploring other hospitals to treat more people who don’t have insurance.

There are 68 hospitals in Cook County, yet the health system’s two public hospitals provide more than half of all the so-called charity care to the county’s uninsured patients. Charity care is treatment hospitals don’t get paid to provide.

Besides facing financial pressures, Shannon has been caught up in a months-long volley with Cook County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard. In June, Blanchard released a damning report that accused Cook County Health’s Medicaid insurance business, called CountyCare, of sitting on nearly $700 million in unpaid bills owed to hospitals and doctors.

County commissioners were livid, but they didn’t get a thorough explanation from Shannon until September. The health system hired the global auditing firm Deloitte to review Blanchard’s findings. The firm mostly vindicated the health system.

Suffredin, the county commissioner who helped create the health system’s board, said he’ll miss Shannon when he leaves.

“I’m saddened,” Suffredin said. “I think that Jay Shannon has done a remarkable job in the years that he’s run the system. He has always met challenges head on and the system is much better for him having been there.”

Kristen Schorsch covers Cook County government and politics for WBEZ. Follow her @kschorsch.