University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics CEO to retire

Ken Kates, chief executive officer of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
Ken Kates, chief executive officer of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics

Just weeks after longtime head of University of Iowa Health Care Jean Robillard stepped down, his pick nearly a decade ago to lead the UI Hospitals and Clinics has announced he’s retiring.

Ken Kates, 62, who has served as chief executive officer for the state’s largest hospital system since 2008, plans to leave his post in the summer — although a specific date hasn’t been announced. His departure follows that of Robillard, who was named UI vice president for medical affairs of UI Health Care in 2007 and stepped down Nov. 30.

Robillard, 73, was picked as dean of the UI Carver College of Medicine in 2003 and four years later added vice president of UI Health Care to his title. He hired Kates in 2008, and the pair ushered in a decade of growth, including the October 2012 opening of UIHC’s Iowa River Landing in Coralville, expansion of its off-site clinic operation, surging patient volumes, and last winter’s opening of the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

“I am so grateful for all the amazing people I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside,” Kates said in a statement. “I know that all of UI Health Care will continue to excel as a pre-eminent academic medical center, and I look forward to learning of all the great things to come.”

Kates, who’s spent nearly four decades in health care operations and leadership, came to Iowa from the University of Chicago Hospitals and Health System in Chicago, where he served as executive vice president and chief operating officer.

With an annual salary of $839,421 in 2017, he earned a total of more than $1 million last year — making him the sixth highest-paid public employee in Iowa, behind only those atop UI and Iowa State University athletics and ahead of Robillard, according to state data.

Patricia Winokur, executive dean of the Carver College of Medicine, will chair a national search for Kates’ successor. The university is in the process of forming a search committee. The hope, according to UIHC spokesman Tom Moore, is to avoid appointing an interim CEO.


“The hope is that by Ken agreeing to stay on until late summer, that the search committee will have been able to identify Ken’s successor, allowing for a smooth transition,” he said.

Kates’ departure adds to the many changes underway within UI Health Care and the hospitals and clinics since Robillard in September 2016 announced plans to step down. A search for his replacement took more than a year — culminating with the October selection of Brooks Jackson, who was serving as vice president for health sciences and dean of the medical school at University of Minnesota.

Jackson officially took over for Robillard on Nov. 30, less than a year after the opening of Iowa’s new $360 million 14-floor children’s hospital. Ken Fisher, associate vice president for finance of UI Health Care and chief financial officer for the hospitals and clinics, retired over the summer.

The enterprise of late — like many others across the health care spectrum — have been weathering storms of uncertainty amid modifications and vagaries in federal health care regulation and resulting fallout across the insurance and payer markets.

Kates and Robillard in September reported UI Hospitals and Clinics’ operating income for the 2017 budget year was down nearly 50 percent from its budget and more than 72 percent from the previous year.

The hospital’s budget in July — the first month of the new fiscal year — showed an operating income deficit of nearly $7.2 million, compared with a budget of $1 million in the positive and more than $3.8 million at the same point last year.

Kates recently reported the enterprise has turned that around. In October, he said August and September’s operating income were in the black, and he anticipated making up the lost ground.

The hospital system also is dealing with lagging state funding — as is all of public higher education across Iowa. It is addressing issues by cutting faculty and staff where possible and finding new efficiencies.


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Reductions do not include the UIHC nurse fleet, which has been insufficient in recent months for the facility’s nearly 800 inpatient beds. With a steep daily census that reached a record 740 inpatients in October, the hospital has tapped traveling nurses and held recruiting fairs to up its staffing in that area.

Over the summer, UI Health Care hired a consultant to evaluate a potential partnership with a larger regional system — which analysts say could help the institution in its clinical, research, and reaching endeavors. Cedar Rapids-based UnityPoint Health, for example, in 2014 announced a partnership with the Mayo Clinic of Rochester, Minn., making it part of the Mayo network.

UIHC hasn’t publicly identified potential partners or provided any update on that consideration.

Under Kates’ nearly decadelong tenure, the hospitals’ most notable accomplishments include:

Patient growth — marked by an inpatient rise of 16 percent, an outpatient increase of 23 percent, and a surgery spike of 33 percent between 2009 and 2017;

Expansion of the clinical enterprise, including the new children’s hospital, Iowa River landing, and primary and specialty care locations in more than 30 Iowa communities;

Implementation of an enhanced electronic health record and order-entry system in 2009;

Consistent ranking among the nation’s best hospitals and elite children’s hospitals, according to U.S. News & World Report;

And numerous honors, including No. 1 best employer in the U.S. health care industry, magnet status for nursing excellence, and among the “most wired” hospitals, according to the American Hospital Association Health Forum and the College of Health Care Information Management Executives.


“Like so many people across our enterprise and the university campus, I have appreciated Ken’s partnership and expertise,” Jackson said in a statement. “He has made a tremendous difference to UI Health Care, and he exemplifies what it means to always put the patient first. We will all miss him.”

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