Expanding outpatient services, beefing up physician ranks and improving quality are key priorities for Sonia Mehta, who acknowledges that her new job as CEO of Chicago's Loretto Hospital won't be easy.
An internist who trained at West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, Dr. Mehta takes the reins of a 187-bed safety-net hospital on the West Side that aims to survive and thrive in an industry rife with consolidation as insurance carriers and government programs pressure providers to reduce costs.
“She'll always have to keep her eye on the cost side of the equation,” said Doug Fenstermaker, a Chicago-based vice president of health care at Warbird Consulting Partners. “Realistically, I think most if not all smaller hospitals are thinking about, 'Can I make it alone?' And the probable answer is no.”
Located in the Austin neighborhood, Loretto had nearly $69 million in revenue for the year ending June 30, 2011. About 45 percent of its patients were on Medicare and 33 percent on Medicaid in 2011.
Dr. Mehta, 46, replaced Loretto's longtime CEO Steve Drucker, who retired. She was most recently CEO of HSHS Medical Group. Dr. Mehta said she took the role at Loretto in part to be closer to family. She, her husband and two children live in Northbrook.
At Loretto, she says she has no short-term plans to merge with another hospital, though she doesn't rule out the possibility.
“We want to be the hospital of choice for the community,” she said.
Her ambitious plans includes adding outpatient facilities in the neighborhood, employing more primary care doctors and increasing the number of aligned physicians who treat patients at Loretto but are not employed there. Loretto has only about a dozen employed physicians and around 200 aligned physicians, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Dr. Mehta said one of her top priorities is to improve quality, particularly to prevent financial penalties for high readmission rates mandated by the federal health care overhaul. Loretto is being penalized 0.39 percent of its base Medicare payments for 2013 federal fiscal year, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Prior to Hospital Sisters, Dr. Mehta was chief of ambulatory services at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights and worked as a physician for Alexian Brothers Health System, also based in the northwest suburb. She was also a physician at Condell Acute Care Centers in Libertyville.
A graduate of NHL Municipal Medical College in Ahmedabad, India, Dr. Mehta received her MBA in 2011 from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.
For the last several years, Loretto has embarked on a series of projects without taking on debt, relying instead on grants and its own revenue. The hospital has expanded its emergency room and opened a women's health center. It's installing a new sprinkler system and renovating patient rooms to make them private.
A medical office building where outpatient services would be offered and physicians could keep offices is on the hospital's wish list, said Edward Hogan, the hospital board's chairman for about 15 years and a founding partner at Chicago-based law firm Hogan Marren Ltd.
Loretto also has several pending proposals with other hospitals to form an accountable care organization, Mr. Hogan said. ACOs are key features of federal health care reform intended to reduce costs by having providers share in any savings from providing more effective care. But they also shoulder the financial burden of cost overruns.
“You have to be a strong institution,” Mr. Hogan said.
Loretto was founded in 1923 and operated by the Sisters of St. Casimir from 1938 until 1991, when it became independent.
The religious order also controls Holy Cross Hospital on the Southwest Side, which is slated to merge with Sinai Health System.