A Warm Welcome Back to HHC’s New President & CEO
Returning from a successful run leading the Chicago public healthcare system, Dr. Ram Raju gets reacquainted with his NYC colleagues and vows to keep HHC a national leader in healthcare reform.
It was a typical frigidly cold Friday in Chicago when Dr. Ramanathan Raju, a former pediatric trauma surgeon, delivered his last remarks and farewell speech as CEO of the Cook County Health and Hospitals System.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be outgoing and popular. I tried very hard to be outgoing and I simply could not do it. Finally, today I obtained the title outgoing… outgoing CEO,” he said to the crowd who had grown familiar with his sense of humor, as well as his deep commitment to social justice through quality, accessible healthcare.
That next Monday morning, he was back home, on Staten Island. He crossed the Verrazano Bridge before dawn to begin his first day at the helm of HHC, the largest public healthcare system in the country.
“Today, it is my great honor to rejoin HHC as President and CEO. For those of you who don't know me, I had several positions at HHC,” he said in an email to staff.
But, as evidenced during a “getting-reacquainted” tour of HHC facilities his first week, not many employees needed that introduction.
At public events at Bellevue, Harlem and Lincoln hospitals, he was greeted with “Welcome back, Ram,” and “Good to have you home.” He knew many people by name, recalling how he met them and how long they’ve known each other.
“We go back 25 years when I was still doing trauma,” Dr. Raju said of Dr. Arthur Cooper, head of the Harlem Hospital team who offered a “surgeon-to-surgeon” update about the remarkable recovery of the 16 year-old East Harlem blast victim Oscar Hernandez. “I’m so impressed with the team there.”
Dr. Raju said the site visits helped to serve a double duty and support what he sees as his role -- to become the most effective advocate for the City’s public healthcare system.
His first goal was to shake many hands and thank as many staff as possible for their dedication –- something he promises to do often to recognize employee excellence and improve staff engagement. “Happy staff equals happy patients,” he said.
He was also there making a series of public appearances to underscore HHC’s leadership role in healthcare reform, patient care excellence, and commitment to modern healthcare infrastructure that he says “defy the stereotype of public hospitals and clinics.”
His first day at work happened to coincide with the deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. He went to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan to greet MetroPlus enrollment counselors who were making a last push to attract new consumers to HHC’s own health insurance plan and one of the most popular choices among New York City residents shopping on the Health Exchange.
Mid-week, he made a private visit to Oscar in the Harlem Hospital Burn ICU and later joined a press briefing at which Oscar’s father, Cecilio Hernandez, made his first public appearance and thanked New Yorkers and the team at Harlem.
“What this family has endured is unimaginable. They are still grieving. But the healing has begun. Thanks to the exceptional skill of the Harlem Hospital Trauma and Burn Unit teams, Oscar's prognosis is extremely positive and he is well on his way to recovery,” Dr. Raju said. “And I can tell he’s doing well because he asked for a fast food burger.”
To wrap up the first week, Dr. Raju attended a ribbon cutting event to mark the opening of the newly expanded $24 million emergency room at Lincoln Hospital Center, the busiest in New York City with more than 175,000 visits annually.
“HHC has invested more than $2 billion in facility modernizations over the last decade,” Dr. Raju said to the standing room crowd in the South Bronx. “It’s a perfect symbol of the renaissance of our public healthcare system, the perfect backdrop to the delivery of exceptional healthcare.”
As the 15th President and CEO of HHC, Dr. Raju inherits a significantly transformed healthcare delivery system. He gives credit to his predecessor, Alan Aviles, who led significant reforms in patient safety and quality, and made HHC more efficient against continuous budget challenges.
“These are major accomplishments, and they help set the direction in which I will continue to lead,” Dr. Raju added.
But he recognizes that as the healthcare landscape continues to evolve, there are still many external threats to HHC’s long-term viability. He is ready to help HHC adapt and excel, with a stronger focus on wellness, population health, and new community partnerships, including the City’s business community “who need to get educated about the value we offer.”
“There will be challenges -- there always are -- but we have several great advantages. We have exceptional leadership, staff that is unequaled in its dedication to excellence, and we have a mission that defines us, inspires us, and makes us unique,” he said.