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Illinois Medical District reveals first-ever "strategic plan"

Almost one year after undergoing a shift in its membership, the Illinois Medical District Commission has unveiled a new vision for the district’s future that aims to improve healthcare and drive economic growth within the historically cash-strapped agency.

The 560-acre district, comprised of Rush University Medical Center, Stroger Hospital, University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, Jesse Brown VA Medical Center, and over 40 other medical facilities, has long been criticized for its shaky finances.

In April, Gov. Pat Quinn named Warren Ribley as the commission’s new executive director after reports surfaced that the agency was on the verge of defaulting on $40 million in bonds in 2014. Five individuals on the seven-member commission were replaced about a month later.

In an effort to set priorities for the district moving forward, the commission worked with Boston Consulting Group and a private sector advisory council headed by former Abbott Laboratories executive Jim Tyree to develop the district’s first-ever “strategic plan,” which was presented at a meeting Tuesday.

Commission President Jennifer Woodard said the agency’s new vision reflects months of discussions with the four major medical centers and captures the original intent of the law that created the district in 1941.

“For reasons which we may as well leave to history, because negative discussion is not why we are here today, the IMD never achieved [its] legislative objectives…there has never been a strategic planning process with the engagement of its stakeholders,” she said, later adding, “Today, the commission is determined to achieve the intention of the legislation that created the IMD. That is truly why we have all signed up for this work.”

If all goes according to the plan, the district expects to within 10 years rake in $300 million and create 2,000 to 4,500 permanent jobs through projects focused on four key areas: infrastructure and development, community health, translational research, and clinical data.

According to Ribley, steps have already been taken to make improvements in each area, including bringing in a contract research organization to facilitate clinical trials and establishing a localized health information exchange.

Some of the many infrastructure and development projects already underway include the expansion of fiber optic networks and the creation of a mixed-use development at 2020 W. Ogden Ave.

About 10 percent of the district is currently undeveloped, Ribley told The Daily Whale. He said the commission is seeking to use that space primarily to develop medical facilities and office space, as well as to house businesses that can provide the hospitals with joint services such as emergency response and disaster preparedness.

A representative from each of the district’s four major medical partners spoke in support of the strategic plan during yesterday’s meeting, all expressing gratitude for the highly collaborative process.

“We’re highly, highly excited about this partnership and I want to laud the leadership here for being able to provide the collaborative environment that I think will turn out to be uniquely impactful,” said Joe G.N. “Skip” Garcia, vice president for health affairs at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System.

Both Ribley and Woodard are adamant that all of the district’s bond obligations have been met and the district’s financial woes are a thing of the past. They credited better management and new leases as some of the reasons for the fiscal turnaround.

“We clearly have turned that corner and it is a new day,” Ribley said. “We’ve taken a much more aggressive role in how we manage our property to make sure those types of problems remain in the past.”