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For the Good of the Public

Pulmonologist and critical care specialist has a special interest in health care disparities
By Cheryl England

It’s a good thing for Cook County that John Jay Shannon, MD, CEO of the Cook County Health & Hospitals System (CCHHS), decided early on that lab work wasn’t for him. “I was working in a lab trying to give mice asthma,” he says. “But I didn’t like the mice and the mice didn’t like me.”

An Illinois native, Dr. Shannon was appointed CEO of CCHHS in June 2014. He was immediately charged with executing the system’s CountyCare Medicaid program that his predecessor had initiated. “I’m up to my hips in that right now,” he says. “With luck and filling out my leadership team, I hope to find time to teach residents and see patients.”

An internist with specialty certifications in pulmonary and critical care medicine, Dr. Shannon has spent most of his professional career at John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital. He first joined the medical staff in 1990 when Stroger was called Cook County Hospital and served in several roles, including director of the adult asthma clinic—the busiest asthma clinic with the highest risk patients in Chicago. While in that position, he was a co-principal investigator on an NIH grant to study asthma disparities in the Chicago area. “That grant allowed me to incorporate my clinical training with a growing understanding of the complexity of health care systems,” he says. “It spurred me to think more about public health and care disparities across ethnic and income lines.”

Simultaneously, from 1999–2007, Dr. Shannon also served as associate chairman for the department of respiratory and intensive care medicine and as chief of the divisions of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Cook County Hospital. “But then out of the blue, I got a call from a physician I admired and had trained under at the Parkland Health and Hospital System in Dallas,” he says. “The physician wanted me to be chief medical officer and join them in addressing health care disparities.”

Dr. Shannon jumped at the chance to expand his expertise beyond clinical work and teaching. He and his wife, Robin, a clinical instructor in population health at the UIC College of Nursing, and their three children moved to Dallas in 2007 for a five-year stint. By the time he left Parkland, Dr. Shannon held a joint position as the executive vice president for medical affairs and as chief medical officer at Parkland. “The experience was like a whole separate graduate education for me,” he says. “I learned how to put together people, leadership and funding to reach important objectives.”

In 2012, Dr. Shannon returned to Chicago for personal and professional reasons not knowing where he would end up. “At the time, there were a lot of mergers, alignments and acquisitions happening in Chicago,” he says. “I had no idea I would end up at “home”—CCHHS.”

Initially, Dr. Shannon returned as chief of clinical integration at CCHHS. In March of 2014 he was appointed interim CEO and in June the board unanimously named him CEO. “This has been a great challenge and opportunity to expand access in the ACA environment,” he says. “We have the opportunity to provide even better health care for vulnerable populations. The day of universal health care will be a wake up call for all public health systems. We must be a system of choice rather than one of last resort.”

Dr. Shannon’s Career Highlights

When you’ve had a career as full of success as has Dr. Shannon, narrowing down highlights can be difficult. But when asked what he considers his greatest accomplishment, teaching and public service top the list of this 1986 graduate of Rush Medical College. Dr. Shannon has consistently won awards for excellence in teaching at Stroger, with ten awards in 14 years. In 2007, Dr. Shannon received the prestigious Physician Service Award from the American Lung Association of Metropolitan Chicago and just recently, he received a 2015 Leadership Award from Becker’s Healthcare.

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