The corner office: Sinai Health System's Karen Teitelbaum on doing the right thing

"My dad was really one of my heroes; he was very focused on doing the right thing. What is right in terms of social justice, and how to make things better in the world and make your time here count. I've thought about all of the jobs I've had, and I think being CEO of Sinai and working with amazingly dedicated healthcare workers would be the job he'd be most proud of."

Karen Teitelbaum became president and CEO of Sinai Health System, a four-hospital safety-net system on Chicago's South and West sides, in July 2014.

She first joined the system in 2007, coming aboard as executive vice president and COO. Ms. Teitelbaum has held leadership positions at other hospitals both in the city of Chicago and the suburbs. However, her first foray into healthcare was when she worked as a speech pathologist. She's even owned a rehabilitation agency and, interestingly, a jam company.

Now at the helm of Sinai, Ms. Teitelbaum runs a system that has a payer mix of 60 percent Medicaid and roughly 15 percent uninsured. Despite all that, Sinai has made major strides in terms of population health, with adding behavioral health services at one of its hospitals, as well as plans to physically expand to better serve its community.

Ms. Teitelbaum, a native New Yorker, earned a master's degree in speech and language pathology from Northwestern University in Chicago and an MBA from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management.

Here, Ms. Teitelbaum took the time to answer Becker's Hospital Review's seven questions.

What's one thing that really piqued your interest in healthcare?

I started as a speech therapist and really loved the individual connections I could make with patients. After my first job, I went into a privately owned rehabilitation agency and ended up buying the agency. I decided I should know something about business as well as healthcare, so I went back for my MBA and sold the agency to a national firm. But I really liked healthcare on the business end and working directly with patients as a speech therapist; it's all important work.Karen Teitelbaum

What do you enjoy most about Chicago?

I'm a native New Yorker, but at this point, I've lived in Chicago longer than I ever lived in New York. I should start saying I'm a native Chicagoan. New York is big and culturally diverse. I think we can say the same thing about Chicago but with a Midwestern, friendly, accessible and welcoming feeling. I have two adult sons and they both live in different parts of Chicago and I live in another. There are cool things going on now in Chicago's technology community, particularly in healthcare. It's a very exciting time to be here.

If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry's problems overnight, which would it be?

In my totally biased opinion, I would love to be able to eliminate any of the barriers that hospitals and healthcare systems that serve the most challenged communities might have to building retained earnings. We see 15 percent of people who have no insurance and 60 percent of our patients have Medicaid. We want to build a cushion to be able to enhance our services just as facilities in more affluent areas do. It goes hand in hand with what I believe: there shouldn't be levels of healthcare.

We really believe at Sinai that everyone in Chicago deserves the same access and quality of care that you might find in the Gold Coast or in Lake Forest [more affluent areas of Chicagoland]. We like to think we're doing our end of it down here but there's more to be done.

What do you consider your greatest talent or skill outside of the C-suite?

I like to cook. At one point I took professional cooking lessons at night and on the weekends. I actually used to own my own jam company and our product was in 50 stores in Chicago while I worked at a hospital in the suburbs. Cooking is almost like meditation for me.

How do you revitalize yourself?

Biking. I love to bike. I've actually biked in a number of countries in addition to our wonderful lakeshore path in Chicago. I've biked in Tuscany, Vietnam and Cambodia, islands in Denmark and Portugal. It's a great way to see a country and get to know people.

What's one piece of advice you remember most clearly?

My dad was really one of my heroes; he was very focused on doing the right thing. What is right in terms of social justice, and how to make things better in the world and make your time here count.

I've thought about all of the jobs I've had, and I think being CEO of Sinai and working with amazingly dedicated healthcare workers would be the job he'd be most proud of.

I feel that Sinai was in my bones. Every single day I go home and I'm happy I get a chance to work with folks here and do the service we do. It's tough. People invest in us, from a corporate perspective and a number of philanthropic individuals focused on making Chicago's South and West sides a better place to be. That's the kind of thing that makes me feel good — that they see the good in what we're doing. How could you not feel good when you go home at night?

What do you consider your greatest achievement at Sinai so far?

Our tagline is "Making Lives Better," and that's not just words, it's what we're doing for people who come in our doors and who are in our community. When I came here eight years ago, a major area of focus was enhancing what was a good foundation for quality and taking what was good about Sinai and moving it to a really exemplary level. Two years ago the Illinois Hospital Association started giving out awards for quality and we won two awards. I think it's just a great statement about what a healthcare system with all of our challenges can do when you focus on the right things.

There are two other accomplishments that are important to Sinai and to me. First is Sinai Tomorrow, a significant campus redevelopment project that will enhance how care is delivered to the 1.5 million people in our service area. The City Council of Chicago recently voted unanimously to grant our system $31 million in tax incremental financing, representing one-third of our project costs.

The second would be behavioral health services at Holy Cross Hospital on the South Side of Chicago. The hospital had no behavioral health services but frequently had patients in crisis waiting nearly two days until a hospital could accept a behavioral health transfer. In August 2014 we received state approval to build a 24-bed psychiatry unit at Holy Cross Hospital and have already opened an outpatient behavioral health clinic that is well-attended. I'm so proud that we are providing much needed services to a community where before there had been none immediately available.

Copyright © 2022 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.

 

Featured Whitepapers

Featured Webinars