Mike Stocker, M.D., MPH, was appointed HHC Board Chair by Mayor Bloomberg on September 24. Dr. Stocker has more than three decades of healthcare experience, first as a practicing physician in Chicago's major public hospital and most recently as CEO of Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield. Dr. Stocker here shares some of his experiences and vision as chief volunteer leader of the city's public hospital system.
HHC Today: What lessons did you learn as a family practice physician?
Dr. Stocker: When I started in the 60s, family medicine was new and considered a political statement for the idealistic med students. It was exciting work. We were involved with community based organizations and public policy discussions about the need to expand access to primary care and to make the practice appealing to physicians. Here we are three decades later still challenged by the same needs. I learned that medicine is hard to change.
HHC Today: How did those early years shape the rest of your career?
Dr. Stocker: : I had the opportunity to witness how people faced with serious challenges, like chronic or life-threatening illness, find inspiration and courage to prevail. That's a great model when you are in business. As CEO in any industry, you have to be willing to take on serious challenges. I had to find a bit of that courage and inspiration.
HHC Today: Speaking of challenges, what impact will the economy and state budget have on HHC? How can the board help?
Dr. Stocker: The board oversees the operating and capital budget process, and the approval of major system expenditures and investments. Our role is not to manage, but to represent the community, to inspect, to guide and to protect the interests of the organization. I don't yet know the exact financial impact on HHC. But I know the board stands ready to support the leadership team charged with advancing projects that help reduce expenses and improve efficiency.
HHC Today: The public hospital system has lofty goals. What's the board's role in supporting that agenda?
Dr. Stocker: Our role, particularly as we confront budget challenges, is to help guide the organization and ensure we exhaust all creative ways to address budget issues without sacrificing the core of the mission or veering off track from the strategic priorities of high quality and patient safety.
HHC Today: You've been on the job just a month. What have you learned about HHC?
Dr. Stocker: As I made my rounds to Jacobi, Kings County, Lincoln and Coler-Goldwater, it became immediately clear that there is a fierce pride in the organization. Also, I knew HHC was big. I just never appreciated how really big and complex it truly is. That makes its accomplishments in implementing best-practices and other system-wide quality improvements that much more significant.
HHC Today: What are some of your early observations about the state of HHC?
Dr. Stocker: I think HHC has a fair amount of advantages. It is a single entity with a real sense of history and tradition. It has put in place a coordinated, organized mission to provide good service, not just good care. And there are lots of staff who have been here for a long time, who are deeply committed. That's a huge asset. You can't get to any of that quickly.
HHC Today: You recently retired. Why did you agree to take on this demanding volunteer job?
Dr. Stocker: Working with HHC brings me back to the level of satisfaction I had in the early part of my career and it keeps me here in NYC. But, HHC is not going to be my full time job. I work with the NY State Stem Cell Research Funding Committee overseeing how $600 million will be spent over the next 10 years. And I will continue my work with the Arthur Ashe Institute, which contrary to perception, does not deal with tennis, but is a healthcare organization that, among other things, trains people for health careers.
HHC Today: But, what will you do for fun?
Dr. Stocker: I will be spending more time with my wife and family. I sail with my 10-year-old son. I have two older children and six grandkids who'll be keeping me busy.