Health Care for All
Published on 08 January 2020
Working his way up from staff pharmacist to president and CEO, Jerry Esker, B.S. ’82, MBA, has worked within the Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System in East Central Illinois for more than 30 years. Throughout his career, Esker has served as a trusted leader in health care committed to providing care for all.
Under Esker’s leadership, Sarah Bush Lincoln has grown to employ 2,500 individuals. The system operates 45 health clinics in 15 different communities and is currently approaching $400 million in net revenue.
How did you discover your unique career path?
After graduating from St. Louis College of Pharmacy, I worked in retail for two years and then transitioned into a staff pharmacist position at Sarah Bush Lincoln. Three years later, I was promoted to pharmacy director. As I was gathering more management responsibilities, I decided to attend night classes so that I could obtain my MBA.
In 2007, I became vice president of practice management and oversaw the system’s physician network. At the time, I managed about 75 providers who were completing around 180,000 annual office visits. We ended up doubling our medical staff, and now we are up to 350,000 annual office visits. That increase in office visits has been a catalyst for growth in the hospital system.
Today, after three years serving as president and CEO, I see my role as building relationships and maintaining an open dialogue with our physicians to ensure we are delivering on our mission and providing care for all who come through our doors.
What has been critical to your success?
I am proud that I started here in a staff position and helped the organization grow and succeed because it provided me with a unique perspective. I have firsthand experience serving on a health care team, making rounds and working with patients directly. My clinical background as a pharmacist allows me to better understand the impact that administrative decisions have on patient care.
Being an active member in my community also allows me to see that our system does more than just provide health care – it contributes to the local economy and is the largest employer in the area. Maintaining our local presence while continuing to grow has helped us control our own destiny while still providing care for uninsured and underserved patient populations.
What makes Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System unique?
We are a payer-blind system, which means our physicians do not know whether a patient has health insurance or not. We are purposeful in ensuring that every patient receives the best care, regardless if they are able to pay.
Our location in a rural, economically disadvantaged area is one of the many reasons we are motivated to continue growing so that we can provide even greater access to health resources and specialty care. Outside of Chicago, we boast the largest orthopedic group in Illinois – which is unheard of among community hospitals. Specialty care is typically limited in rural areas, but we are able to provide a variety of specialty services.
We also put an emphasis on providing high-quality health care. The Leapfrog Group (a national organization that collects, analyzes and disseminates hospital data) awarded Sarah Bush Lincoln an A rating for our commitment to patient safety. We were one of 37 hospitals in Illinois to earn the group’s highest safety grade. We also earned a four-star rating from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Our commitment to our mission, quality initiatives and success gives me the most pride, and our high ratings reflect our hard work.
How did the College prepare you for leadership?
As a student, I was surrounded by high-caliber students and faculty. When you are surrounded by high-caliber peers, you are pushed to excel. It forces you to work harder in order to stand out.
I carry that drive with me today by surrounding myself with high-caliber health care providers and working to be the best leader I can be.
This story was first published in the fall 2019 issue of Script magazine. To read past issues of the magazine, visit the Script magazine archive.