IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics on Nov. 15 will welcome a new chief executive officer — Suresh Gunasekaran, currently chief operations officer for the nationally ranked University of Texas Southwestern Health System in Dallas.
Gunasekaran will succeed Ken Kates, who has served as chief executive officer for Iowa’s largest hospital system since 2008. Kates, 63, announced plans to retire this summer back in January — shortly after the departure of UI Health Care’s top executive, Jean Robillard, and a year after UIHC Chief Financial Officer Ken Fisher retired.
Brooks Jackson, who replaced Robillard as vice president for medical affairs in November, announced Gunasekaran’s selection Monday after a seven-month search — pending approval by the Board of Regents, which next meets Sept. 12 and 13 on the UI campus.
“Mr. Gunasekaran is ideally qualified to lead UI Hospitals and Clinics,” Jackson said in a statement. “His broad experience in health care information technology, physician group practices, and children’s hospitals is impressive.”
Gunasekaran, in his University of Texas role, administers within a system comprised of 1,700 practicing medical faculty members and two university hospitals. That system, like the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, is nationally ranked among the top 50 in seven adult specialties, according to the most recent U.S. News & World Report list.
Both health care systems also earned “high-performing” marks in four adult specialties — with Iowa landing its highest accolades for its ears, nose and throat care at No. 3 and for its ophthalmology department at No. 7.
The Texas system’s highest rankings were at No. 18 for geriatrics, and No. 21 for diabetes and endocrinology and also neurology and neurosurgery.
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Gunasekaran comes to Iowa at a time of significant change within the UI Health Care system, which recently opened a 14-story stand-alone UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital that cost more than $360 million and has ensnared the campus in litigation over contract payments.
The hospital system also has struggled financially — blaming health care headwinds and fiscal uncertainties. It came in below budget in 2017 and started the 2018 fiscal year with a deficit. The university launched an $86 million savings initiative in response, targeting a reduction of the equivalent of 500 full-time employees, and over the summer UIHC officials reported recovering from that rough patch — reporting a net revenue above budget.
UI officials didn’t immediately respond to questions from The Gazette on Monday about how many applicants they reviewed or finalists they interviewed to replace Kates, who during his stint at the helm oversaw the UIHC’s 2012 opening of its Iowa River Landing facility in Coralville, expansion of its off-site clinic operation and debut of the new Children’s Hospital.
According to the UI job description, Kates’ replacement will report to Jackson and “establish a vision for UI Hospitals and Clinics and will lead and navigate the complexities of the $2 billion clinical enterprise.”
“The CEO will build a strong internal leadership team that will be focused on efficiency and performance excellence in quality, finance, physician alignment and patient satisfaction,” according to the job description.
Candidate requirements, among other things, included an advanced degree or the equivalent, at least 10 years of “progressively responsible leadership roles in health care,” and experience as a “successful senior executive in a large sophisticated and complex academic health system.”
Gunasekaran, in his current role, also functions as senior executive officer for a joint-venture population health services company that serves more than 400,000 members in north Texas, according to a news release.
He started his health care career in clinic and revenue cycle operations at Vanderbilt University Children’s Hospital, and he joined University of Texas Southwestern in 2004 as assistant vice president and chief information officer.
He has a master’s in business administration with honors from Southern Methodist University.
In a statement, Gunasekaran said he feels fortunate to be chosen for this UIHC post.
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“I am excited to join a nationally recognized health care organization and work alongside world-class faculty, caring clinicians, and dedicated staff to make a difference in the lives of all Iowans,” he said.
He’ll earn an annual salary of $800,000. That is below the $839,421 salary Kates was earning upon his departure. In 2017, Kates brought in a total of more than $1 million — making him the sixth highest-paid public employee in Iowa.
Jackson’s annual salary is set at $825,000.
When Kates started as CEO in 2008, his annual salary was $540,000 — with incentive payments and bonuses accruing over the years. In 2015, he earned a longevity payment equal to his base salary that year — $776,162 — bringing him to more than $1.6 million, according to contracts reviewed by The Gazette and state salary databases.
In 2014, former UI President Sally Mason offered Kates a longevity incentive equal to his 2020 base pay “if you are still in your present position on January 1, 2020.”
“There would be no payment if you leave your present position before that date,” according to Mason’s letter.
UI spokesman Tom Moore has confirmed for The Gazette that Kates is not receiving incentive pay when he leaves.
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