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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Chief Executive Officer Suresh Gunasekaran — just three years after arriving to lead the state’s largest teaching hospital — is leaving to head the No. 9-ranked University of California San Francisco Academic Health System, the university announced Tuesday.
Gunasekaran has been one of the area’s most publicly visible faces as the COVID-19 pandemic nears its second anniversary in Iowa, warning just last week that the UIHC was seeing the most dire situation it has been through with infected patient counts at an all-time high while more of its staff are out sick than before.
At the same time, the transition at the top is happening as the UIHC recently began building a $395 million, 469,000-square-foot hospital and clinics operation on 60 acres in North Liberty, and announced that a 10-year plan will include construction of a new patient tower, academic building and clinic on the main Iowa City campus.
Gunasekaran will be leaving at the end of February to start March 1 as CEO of the UCSF Academic Health System, UI Health Care Vice President for Medical Affairs Brooks Jackson said.
“All I can say is I could not have asked for a better partner,” Jackson told reporters. “I recruited Suresh here several years ago and have been extremely pleased with his performance, as well as on personal level working with him.”
Gunasekaran said the decision to leave was difficult.
“University of Iowa Health Care and the University of Iowa is its own standard of excellence,” he said. “Over the last several years, it's been an honor and a privilege to work at the University of Iowa, which is really a collaborative special place that's really valued by the state and valued by this community.
“I'm forever grateful for having had the opportunity to be a part of the University of Iowa.”
Gunasekaran started at UIHC on Nov. 19, 2018, following a national search to replace UIHC CEO Ken Kates, who retired. Before joining UIHC, Gunasekaran was chief operations officer for the University of Texas Southwestern Health System in Dallas.
He began his health care career in clinic and revenue cycle operations at Vanderbilt University’s Children’s Hospital, joining UT Southwestern in 2004 as an assistant vice president and chief information officer.
He earned a master’s in business administration with honors from Southwestern Methodist University, and before entering health care spent time as an information technology consultant in San Francisco in the late 1990s.
“Ultimately, for me on a personal level, it was hard to resist the pull of UCSF,” he said. “I've lived out there before. I'm very knowledgeable on the community, and I think it's a great institution as well. It isn't so much that there was something lacking here as much as the opportunity to have an impact there.“
UI Health Care plans to appoint an interim CEO “soon” and launch a national search to replace Gunasekaran.
“Most of all, I think it's going to be difficult to give up coming into work every day on Hawkins Drive,” he said. “Twelve-thousand-people strong, we are supremely committed to the entire state of Iowa. We're committed to getting better, we're committed to doing the right thing. And those things came really easy at the University of Iowa Health Care.”
Among Gunasekaran’s notable achievements at Iowa, according to UIHC:
- Leading UIHC and the community through the pandemic “with clear, frequent communication of plans and actions”;
- Implementing free UIHC parking for patients with appointments;
- Advancing patient satisfaction, safety and quality initiatives;
- Consistently achieving a positive hospital margin for self-sustainability and growth;
- Securing a hard-fought state certificate needed for the North Liberty expansion;
- And leading the planning effort to modernize the main hospital campus.
Gunasekaran’s listed salary in September 2021 was $1.1 million. He told reporters Tuesday that compensation didn’t play a role in his decision to leave, although he admitted weather might have.
“It absolutely plays into it, this is a whole lot of shoveling that I get to avoid out there,” he said. “But I’ll also say, there is a real upside to a real university community here. It's powerful, too.”
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