After 13 years as chief of the $800 million Cook County (Ill.) Bureau of Health Services, Ruth Rothstein, 80, announced plans to retire Aug. 31.
For much of her tenure, Rothstein fought to replace Chicago's Cook County Hospital, an outdated, crumbling facility that was built in 1914 for $2.3 million and later served as the model for the TV series "ER." She saw her dream materialize in December 2002 with the opening of 464-bed John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital, a $551 million facility.
Rothstein has made a career of advocating for the underserved and underprivileged. A favorite saying of hers is, "Healthcare is a right and not a privilege. If it's a right, we must find a system that gives us all the same level of care." In her 20-plus years as president and CEO of Mount Sinai Hospital and Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital, Rothstein developed some of the nation's most effective models for access and healthcare delivery on Chicago's West Side, one of the nation's poorest neighborhoods.
After saving the hospital from closure, Rothstein was appointed interim director of Cook County Hospital in 1990, and became chief of the newly created Cook County Bureau of Health Services in 1991. She re-established the county hospital's accreditation, which had been pulled by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, and built a network of 30 community health centers. She also opened Provident Hospital of Cook County in Chicago and formed critical public-private partnerships with eight community hospitals in the city and suburbs to provide tertiary- and specialty-care services for patients.
Cook County Board President John Stroger said Rothstein's replacement would be selected from within the bureau. Rothstein said she is retiring at a time when she believes she's accomplished her goal of building a new hospital to replace one that was "totally dysfunctional."
"It's a very good feeling, that it's there and will be there for many years to come for even my grandchildren to see," she said.