Business Profile | A.J. Wilhelmi

June 2016 View more

A.J. Wilhelmi, CEO of Illinois Health & Hospital Association, for Naperville MagazineThe Illinois Health and Hospital Association (IHA) named A.J. Wilhelmi president and CEO at the start of 2016. With offices in Naperville, Chicago, Springfield and Washington, D.C., IHA represents hundreds of hospitals and health systems as they care for patients and communities, and advocate for a sustainable, patient-focused health care system. As a former member of the Illinois Senate, Wilhelmi brings with him a unique perspective in understanding the challenges and opportunities of serving Illinois communities and promoting community service.

Illinois Health and Hospital Association represents more than 200 hospitals and health systems in the state. What is the mission of your organization?

Our mission is to be the trusted voice and resource for members as they care for their communities—and to achieve our collective vision for Illinois healthcare: To support each person’s quest for optimum health, all individuals have access to high-quality healthcare at the right time and in the right setting.

As CEO and president, what do you see as your biggest challenge for the organization?

Our biggest challenge is navigating the volatile fiscal and political environments in Illinois, while working to ensure a sustainable healthcare delivery system so that all Illinoisans have access to quality healthcare at the right time and in the right place. It is unprecedented for the state to be without a budget for such a long period (ten months as of April)—resulting in long delays in reimbursements to hospitals and health systems for Medicaid and for healthcare services already provided to state employees and retirees. Many of our hospitals are struggling to survive—with more than 40 percent of Illinois’ hospitals operating in the red or at an extremely slim margin.

The health care industry continues to undergo tremendous change. What have been some of the biggest changes in the past 5–10 years?

Among the biggest changes have been the implementation of the Affordable Care Act; the shift from volume to value-based care; diminishing government resources to support healthcare at the state and federal levels; increasing pressures from commercial payers to limit or reduce reimbursements to providers and to establish “narrow” networks of doctors and hospitals with fewer choices for patients and consumers; Illinois’ rapid and massive shift to managed care for the Medicaid program (more than 2 million beneficiaries are now enrolled in Medicaid managed care organizations); and the commitment and focus of hospitals to achieve the Triple Aim of better health, better healthcare and lower costs.

An example of the outstanding work that Illinois hospitals and health systems are engaged in to advance better outcomes and lower costs is an IHA initiative, the Hospital Engagement Network or HEN. In the first phase of this program (HEN 1.0), 100 participating hospitals and health systems across Illinois prevented nearly 160,000 readmissions and hospital-acquired conditions, with an associated cost savings of more than $160 million, from January 2012 to February 2014. We are now engaged in a new phase of HEN in a unique two-state partnership with the Michigan Health and Hospital Association to share best practices to improve quality and patient safety. More than 200 hospitals and health systems, including 112 in Illinois, are part of HEN 2.0.

You have a strong background in Illinois politics having served in the state Senate. How has this experience helped you in your current position?

As a state senator, I learned how important collaboration and perseverance are in advancing a legislative initiative. And that it’s essential to be well versed on the issues you’re seeking to advance. But most importantly, I learned early on that your word means everything in this business.

What has been your proudest accomplishment so far in your career?

My proudest accomplishment is having the opportunity to serve more than 200 hospitals and health systems across the state—to advocate for them in support of their critical mission of providing quality healthcare in their communities. It is an honor and privilege to serve our hospitals and health systems as president and CEO of IHA and have the opportunity to work together to achieve our vision for Illinois healthcare, where all Illinoisans and communities have access to high-quality healthcare at the right time and in the right setting.

Why do you do what you do – what motivates you to start your day?

I am inspired by our hospital members across the state as I think about what they do every day—saving lives and serving their patients and communities. That motivates me to do my best every day. I also read an inspirational thought every morning, which helps set a positive, can-do attitude for the rest of the day.

When you are not busy being CEO, how do you enjoy spending your free time? (Hobbies, activities, favorite places to visit?)

I especially enjoy spending quality time with my wife and three daughters. For relaxation and inspiration, I read motivational books and biographies. Among my favorite places to visit—which happen to occur as I meet with our hospital and health system members—are towns and cities all across Illinois from Chicago to Metropolis. The state is amazingly diverse, and by going around the state, I am able to get a first-hand look and sense of the communities our hospitals serve every day.

Photo by Mike Hudson