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Safety-net hospital's prime patient: the CEO

As a healthcare consultant, Guy Medaglia often saw chief executives desert their own hospitals when they needed medical care themselves.

“They have a million reasons,” he said. “But if you really believe in the services you provide, then you go there.”

So when Mr. Medaglia was diagnosed with stage 2 melanoma three weeks ago, he had surgery at St. Anthony Hospital, a safety-net hospital on Chicago's West Side where he has been CEO since 2010. Friends and family encouraged him to seek treatment at a facility specializing in cancer.

They asked, " 'Why would you have it done at an inner-city hospital?' My answer: 'It's a very good hospital,' " he said.He also became the first St. Anthony's patient treated by Tiesenga Surgical Associates S.C., a six-doctor group that joined the hospital's medical staff on Dec. 1.

The surgery was performed by Dr. Charles Schubert, who removed a cancerous growth from Mr. Medaglia's left arm. No signs of cancer were found in the surrounding tissue, Mr. Medaglia said.

The Elmwood Park-based practice, whose president is Dr. Frederick Tiesenga, offers multiple surgical specialties including cardiac thoracic, bariatric, breast, vascular and advanced laparoscopy.

Surgeons are particularly needed in Lawndale, the low-income community where the 151-bed hospital is located, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The Tiesenga surgeons will remain employees of the practice but have agreed to perform operations at St. Anthony's, which would generate new fees for the hospital, with revenue of $105.2 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011.

To attract doctors like those in Tiesenga Surgical Associates, St. Anthony's agrees to pay them the difference between the lower reimbursements of Medicare and Medicaid and private insurance.

Expanding services is one way for safety-net hospitals to “strengthen the brand” in the eyes of potential patients, said Mark Newton, president and CEO of Swedish Covenant Hospital, a North Side safety-net.

“When I hear about someone adding a multispecialty group, my lens is that (they are) building the clinical competence and deepening clinical capabilities,” he said.

While safety-net hospitals must serve their communities, they also can develop specialties that attract privately insured patients, said Tim Egan, vice president for governmental affairs at Norwegian American Hospital.

In recent years, patients have traveled to the Humboldt Park hospital from out of state because of the hospital's reputation for wound care, he noted.

“We don't have the posh addresses,” he said. “You're always going to battle an image problem when you don't have your hospital in Streeterville or on Michigan Avenue . . . but I'm very proud of the history of Norwegian American Hospital and where we are with our patient care.”
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