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Elgin’s Saint Joseph Hospital ‘here to stay’

Eugene McMahpresident Presence Saint Joseph Hospital talks members ElgAreChamber Commerce about work hospital CEO Wednesday ElgCommunity College.   February

Eugene McMahon, president of Presence Saint Joseph Hospital, talks to members of the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce about the work of a hospital CEO Wednesday at Elgin Community College. February 6, 2013 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 8, 2013 7:40AM

ELGIN — The president of Presence Saint Joseph Hospital says the “secret” he’d like to let everybody in the Elgin area know is that the hospital is not going out of business.

“There’s all this talk in the community that ‘I hear you’re going to close St. Joe,’ ” Dr. Eugene McMahon says. “We’re not rolling in cash. But we are paying all our bills, which was not the case three years ago. We started in Elgin 115 years ago, and we’re here to stay for another century.”

Answering questions Wednesday from leaders of the Elgin Area Chamber of Commerce as part of the chamber’s monthly “CEOs Unplugged” series, the witty physician/exec impacted the audience of about 40 businesspeople more like a stand-up comic than a stodgy administrator.

He recalled, for example, how after growing up in Connecticut he decided to become a pathologist, doing autopsies on the dead to see what had done them in and analyzing tumors, tissues and blood samples from living patients to figure out what was ailing them.

On TV crime-forensics shows like “CSI,” fictional pathologists now “take a strand of hair from the carpet and reconstruct the individual who left it there,” he said. “In my day, we were content to figure out what kind of shark bit this person in half.”

Asked what life lessons he has learned, he said, “Never trust your chief medical officer. Always do what your chief nurse tells you.”

Asked “What makes you queasy?”, this professional examiner of corpses and body fluids answered, “You do remember what I did for a living, right?’

Asked his advice for someone considering a medical career, he urged, “Turn back!”


McMahon said that while training to be an M.D., “I never looked around the hospital and said, ‘I want to run this place someday.’ ” But he began to drift toward the administrative side of health care in his late 30s when he was appointed manager of his practice of 17 pathologists in Milwaukee. He was appointed to the top job at what was then Provena Saint Joseph Hospital 2½ years ago.

Saint Joseph’s parent, the Provena chain of suburban and downstate Catholic hospitals, is now in the final stages of merging with the Resurrection chain of Catholic hospitals in Chicago to form a new organization named “Presence.” So Provena Saint Joseph Hospital has become Presence Saint Joseph Hospital.

On a more serious note, McMahon said he has learned that collaboration is absolutely key to making health care work, especially between doctors and nurses.

“The physician spends maybe minutes a day with the patient. The nurse spends 24 hours a day.”

Tension between doctors and nurses “used to be a man-woman thing,” he said. “It was literally he said/she said.” But now more than half of medical school graduates are women, he said.

Some males also are going into nursing, but not enough to balance out the genders there, too, McMahon said. He said a shortage of nurses is one problem facing hospitals today.

Another is the economy — which, he said, has created a class of people who had good jobs, got laid off, have now been unemployed for months or years, and now need health care but have no way to pay for it.

“I’m not the biggest fan of the Affordable Care Act,” he said, referring to what some call “Obamacare.” “But something has to change when this country is spending 17 to 18 percent of its gross domestic product on something called health care and our outcomes are not stellar when compared to the rest of the world.”

Asked whom he turns to for advice — besides his head nurse — he mentioned the Saint Joseph governing board chaired by advertising woman Pat Szpekowski, the leaders of the 11 other hospitals in the Presence chain, and Rick Floyd, CEO of Elgin’s competing Sherman Hospital.

McMahon said the century-old relationship between Sherman and Saint Joseph “hasn’t always been a pretty picture ... but we have a lot of common problems.”

Asked what he wishes more men would do, he said that “if more would go into nursing, we’d have a better relationship” between doctors and nurses.

Asked what he wishes more women would do, he said they should realize that they too should guard against heart disease. “When you look like me and you huff and puff on the stairs, people will look at you” and say that you’d better get your heart checked. But no one thinks of women having heart disease.”

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