In the Chicago area, there are 21 senior executive-level medical positions with hospitals or health care networks, according to a Crain's survey of the 25 largest hospitals. The titles vary, but the positions are typically called chief medical officer or vice president for medical affairs.
Two of those posts are vacant, including the chief medical officer of Northwest Community Hospital in northwest suburban Arlington Heights. In June, Dr. Leighton Smith abruptly left the 496-bed hospital after holding the post for nearly eight years. His license expired in 1999, state records show.
Of the other 19 top doctors, all are licensed except for Dr. DiLoreto. He was licensed to practice medicine in Louisiana until April 2011, Crain's found after reviewing state licensing records.
Illinois law, like some other states, does not require that CMOs have active licenses.
Yet medical experts say CMOs should be licensed to practice medicine, even if they do not treat patients.
Licensing requirements merely establish a “base line level” of competency, said Nneka Mokwunye, director of the Center for Ethics at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, a teaching hospital in Washington, D.C.
“Ethically speaking, I think CMOs should have an active license,” she said.
Dr. David Longnecker, a director of health affairs at the Washington, D.C.-based Association of American Medical Colleges, runs a professional group for more than 350 CMOs from around the country. Practicing medicine allows CMOs to maintain credibility with their staff, he said. They can also experience problems firsthand and see how well solutions they've implemented actually work.
“Should CMOs be licensed? Yes,” he said. “It makes them more effective in the jobs they perform. Must they be licensed? No.”
To determine how many Chicago-area CMOs are licensed, Crain's surveyed the 25 largest hospitals in the Chicago area, based on 2010 net patient revenue, according to Crain's annual ranking published Nov. 21.
In some instances, health care systems have CMOs, but their member hospitals do not.
Two hospitals do not have chief medical officers, Crain's found: Palos Community Hospital in Palos Heights and Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey.
Dr. DiLoreto joined Resurrection in 2009, following three years as senior vice president and chief medical officer at Baptist Health Care in Pensacola, Fla.
“He's a health care executive who happens to have a medical degree, who works in collaboration with our medical staff to ensure our patients get the best care possible,” a Presence spokesman said.
Dr. DiLoreto isn't required by law to be licensed because he doesn't treat patients, the spokesman said.
One of the 19 top doctors who is licensed to practice medicine is Dr. Balvindar Sareen, vice-president for medical affairs at Sts. Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center in Wicker Park, which is part of Presence.
In June, he moved to Illinois from Wisconsin, where he is currently licensed. He has applied for an Illinois medical license, the Presence spokesman said.
The chief medical officer position at another Presence hospital, Provena St. Joseph Medical Center in southwest suburban Joliet, is one of the two vacant positions.
After Dr. Smith's departure from Northwest Community, CEO Bruce Crowther defended the hospital for not requiring that the chief medical officer be licensed to practice medicine.
“Many hospital CMOs, who also no longer see patients in private practice, do not retain active medical licenses,” he wrote in a memo to employees.
He based that statement on his 20 years of experience as a hospital CEO, a spokesman for Northwest Community said.