Bruce Elegant, CEO of Rush Oak Park Hospital since 1997, remembers his arrival at an institution he said was “broken.” He’ll retire this June with the Rush outpost in Oak Park at the top of its game with a new $30 million ER completed and the burden of the COVID pandemic easing.
In the mid-1990s, Oak Park Hospital, sponsored by the Wheaton Franciscan sisters, was failing. It had a poor reputation for its medical care and had not been invested in by the religious order.
A pact was made for the Rush University medical system to take over full operation and financial control of the hospital without having ownership. Elegant arrived to resuscitate the institution and he has been working at it with steady successes since then.
The hospital has expanded its patient base and campus, made clinical advancements and key technology investments and most recently navigated the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination effort.
“It’s time to pass the torch,” Elegant told Wednesday Journal.
Elegant’s successor will be Dr. Dino Rumoro, chairperson of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Rush University Medical Center. Rumoro will take over July 1, while Elegant will focus on teaching graduate students in the university’s health system management program.
The stress of running a major hospital during a global health crisis did not push Elegant toward retirement. The move is part of a succession plan put in place a couple years ago by Elegant and Dr. K. Ranga Krishnan, CEO of Rush University System for Health.
A search for Elegant’s successor began late in 2020 – a difficult time for a leadership change, considering the onslaught of the pandemic was reinvigorated with a surge in case numbers last winter.
“We were very busy with COVID. We hadn’t really begun vaccinating people yet,” said Elegant. “It was a really tense time, but I think we came out of it with flying colors.”
Rush Oak Park was an early adopter of remdesivir, a drug that shortens the length of hospital stay for COVID-19 patients, said Elegant. The hospital also put patients in the prone position, which Elegant said few community hospitals were doing.
Proning allows patients to breathe easier by turning them onto their abdomen – an effective but labor-intensive process that requires the assistance of several medical staffers, including a respiratory therapist.
Elegant has been working with Rumoro, transitioning him to take over, since the beginning of 2021. The process is going well, said Elegant.
“I think Dino is an extremely capable and competent individual,” Elegant said of his successor.
While already a member of the Rush family, Rumoro is an emergency medicine physician by training. As chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Rush University Medical Center, Rumoro oversaw major renovations to the center’s campus to increase patient care and experience, as well as supervised the creation of the Rush system’s emergency medicine residency program.
Rumoro’s understanding of the Rush system, Elegant believes, will prove an asset to the hospital.
“I think that will be very positive for carrying on the work that I started here with the organization,” said Elegant.
Elegant has key supporters in Oak Park including Anan Abu-Taleb, the now former mayor. Abu-Taleb was a steady backer of the hospital as it expanded its campus into the adjacent residential neighborhood. A large parking garage is planned on hospital-owned property. And Rush recently got approval to demolish residential parcels it has accumulated on Maple Avenue.
“Bruce has been a gamechanger for our community,” said Abu-Taleb. “Not only has he and the hospital been great medical providers, but they have also been an excellent community contributor.”
Even neighbors of the hospital who have strongly criticized the growth and a perceived lack of communication with residents acknowledge Elegant’s contributions.
“Under [Elegant’s] leadership, Rush Oak Park Hospital has become a first-rate community hospital and major economic asset to Oak Park. But the hospital historically has done a poor job engaging and considering nearby residents as it has encroached further and further into our neighborhood,” said David Osta on behalf of Center West Oak Park Neighborhood Association.
At Elegant’s arrival in 1997, Rush was losing ground in a two-hospital race with West Suburban Medical Center. Elegant has remained at the helm of Rush for nearly a quarter century while West Sub has undergone numerous ownership and leadership changes.
“No embarrassment to say that the hospital was broken. The quality was not very good,” said Elegant of Rush Oak Park. “We were not the preferred hospital.”
Elegant ran the hospital for Rush, which had operational and financial responsibility but not full ownership. Rush acquired full ownership of the hospital in 2013.
Under Elegant’s leadership, the hospital has undergone a renaissance, now holding the number one market share in its primary service area, as well as a reputation for providing high quality service to patients.
The hospital has seen major expansion with Elegant at the helm. In 2019, it opened a brand-new 55,000-square- feet emergency department, which cost roughly $30 million – an accomplishment of which Elegant is particularly proud.
He did not shy away from claiming responsibility for the hospital’s revitalization, transforming it into a medical care powerhouse from a rundown hospital.
“I will take credit for that,” said Elegant.
Rush Oak Park Hospital makes the grade
Two separate organizations have given Rush Oak Park Hospital top marks for its quality of care and patient safety.
Rush Oak Park Hospital received its second consecutive five-star rating for quality of health care from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Five stars is the highest possible rating CMS bestows and indicate highest quality of care, most positive outcomes and patient experience.
Non-profit watchdog organization Leapfrog Group awarded Rush Oak Park Hospital “Straight A” status for its success in avoiding infections, errors and accidents that could harm patients. It is the hospital’s 10th consecutive “A” grade from Leapfrog Group.