Exclusive Interview: New CEO of Norwegian Hospital Focuses His Vision on Medical Excellence and Community Engagement


José Sanchez was named president and CEO of Norwegian American Hospital not more than a month ago, however he already has comprehensive plan on how to improve the hospital’s quality of care. To his new leadership position Sanchez brings over 30 years of experience in the health-care field, including a position as CEO of Lincoln Hospital located in the South Bronx, New York. As he begins a new chapter of his life and career in Chicago, Sanchez looks forward to facing challenges and embracing opportunities.

What attracted you to work at Norwegian Hospital?

I have spent my entire career working in safety net hospitals and communities with many health disparities. I am committed to the mission of the safety net institution, which is to provide care to poor communities, and hospitals like Norwegian that serves the Humboldt Park community are very attractive to me. I feel pretty much at home here and integrated into the community. I have received a very good welcoming here which makes things much better. Norwegian American Hospital faces the same challenges that safety net hospitals face across the nation like bringing in additional services to meet the needs of the underserved and the poor. I feel comfortable in this type of environment.

You have said you are “committed to pursuing collaborative and innovative solutions to combat the health care challenges of the communities the hospital serves.” What kind of collaborations to you have in mind? Do you plan on collaborating with any of the health initiatives of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center?

My first week here I visited the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and they had a presentation about treating the Latino community in a culturally competent way, focusing on mental health issues and that is something that I will continue to work with them on. There may also be other opportunities to collaborate with the Puerto Rican Cultural Center. There are also asthma and diabetes initiatives in the community I would like to work with. I’ve also began a discussion with Erie Family Health Center to collaborate to make sure patients can stay in the community to receive medical care rather than leave the community.

Some community members have mentioned frustration over extra long waiting times in the emergency of Norwegian Hospital. How do you plan to address this issue?

There isn’t any emergency room in any county or any city where people don’t wait for some time. Having worked in safety net institutions, one of the things we try to do is to move away from the the use of the physicians in the emergency room department as primary care physicians, which often happens because  patients don’t follow up with appointments.  We need to begin to address this issue through health promotion and education. At Norwegian Hospital we have just put in a new team of emergency room physicians who started at the beginning of October. This will hopefully make a difference. We are also tracking wait times. Our goal is that individuals should not wait more than an hour in the E.R before being sent to the triage and be treated.

What do you forward to in your new position as CEO of Norwegian?

There are a number of initiatives I have, what I consider my vision. There are five specific areas that are important to me for this hospital:

• Focusing on doing well in the Joint Commission, which is the body that accredits hospitals around the United States.They give something like a report card that shows if the quality of care of a hospital meets and exceeds high standards.
• Finance—Getting financial assistance from the government
• Physician engagement—Being able to attract physicians that have the drive and motivation to work with underserved populations and have an emphasis on public health

• Community engagement —Bringing together all the stakeholders in the community and identifying the diseases that are prevalent in the community and developing a strategyto address them
• Focusing on the area of information technology —Having a state of the art medical record system that’s online.

What are some challenges you see in your future at Norwegian?

There are a number of challenges, but I also refer to them as opportunities. We need to bring additional patients into the hospital and retain our current patient base. We need to focus on improving our quality and financially stabilizing this institution that forecasts deficits. We are hoping that stakeholders and elected officials will help to get necessary finances that will help us to continue to focus on developing programs that address the needs of the residents of this area.

What does it mean to you to be the first Puerto Rican/ Latino to run a hospital in Chicago?

I didn’t know I was the first Latino in Chicago; I certainly wasn’t the first in New York. It’s an honor to be here, but I think I will feel more of honored to be the first Latino that will have a successful career here. If we are able to maintain and grow here I think there will be pride about having the first Latino to run a hospital. My pride will be in making this a successful hospital and the hospital choice for the community we serve.

When you are not in charge of a hospital, how do you spend your time?

Since I moved to Chicago at the beginning of this month and officially started at Norwegian on the 18th what I have been doing in my spare time, which is limited, is spending a lot in time in the Humboldt Park community. I’ve gone to eat at Coco’s restaurant. I’m also trying to put together my new apartment. I’m getting to know people here, meeting with elected officials, and just getting to know the city of Chicago, which is so much different from New York.

Interview by Marisol Rodríguez