“He had very strong, deep-held beliefs,” Seiler said. “You could question some of his decisions, but never the ethics or behavior that drove him.”
James Caldwell said blending a strong business acumen with compassion is what made it possible for his dad to lay the groundwork for Greater Southeast to address what at the time was referred to as human ecology, a precursor to today's patient-centered care.
Caldwell helmed Greater Southeast—now United Medical Center—for six years before returning to Illinois and taking over as CEO at Lutheran General Health System.
It's at the Park Ridge, Ill., hospital, in Chicago's northwestern suburbs, where Caldwell's talents and vision fully blended and, the case could be made, he had the greatest impact.
As James Caldwell pointed out, when his dad arrived at Lutheran General in 1979, the economics of healthcare were changing drastically. Managed care was creeping into the vernacular, thanks largely to the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973. Controlling costs was paramount.
Recognizing the challenges that were coming, Caldwell was instrumental in integrating physician and hospital services. In 1980, he launched a medical management group with roughly 40 physicians.
“That was cutting edge at the time,” said Jim Skogsbergh, CEO of Advocate Health Care, which is based in the Chicago suburbs and now owns Lutheran General. “It may not have been the first physician-hospital organization, but he was part of the early thinking in new corporate structures.”
While there was some angst initially among physicians about the medical group, it ultimately turned into a true partnership, added Dr. Lee Sacks, who was Lutheran General's chief resident of family practice at the time.
“Back then, it was called a hospital-physician organization, but we decided to put 'physician' first. Physicians appreciated the support that George and the hospital leadership were willing to put into the organization,” Sacks said.
Lutheran General and Evangelical Health System merged in 1995 to form Advocate Health Care, which today boasts a physician group of more than 1,500 employed doctors.
Although he retired five years before the merger, Caldwell's thumbprint is all over Advocate Health Care, Skogsbergh added, including medical education.
When Caldwell arrived at Lutheran General, the hospital already had a couple of residency programs.
“He had the vision of us being a major teaching hospital; taking a community-based medical staff and creating a real culture of learning,” said Sacks, who now serves as Advocate Health Care's executive vice president and chief medical officer. Sacks said that Caldwell was able to develop new funding streams to support the growth in residency programs, as well as recruit top-notch faculty and, importantly, develop a supportive infrastructure.
And as he had done at Lake Forest Hospital and Greater Southeast, Caldwell never lost sight of the patient, according to people interviewed for this story and those who submitted letters of support for his Hall of Fame nomination. He continued to push for expanded services in mental health, substance and alcohol abuse, long-term care and more.
“He believed in helping others. It was that simple,” James Caldwell said.