Mark Neaman, one of the longest-serving hospital CEOs in the Chicago area, with nearly 26 years at the helm of NorthShore University HealthSystem, is stepping down.

On Nov. 9, he’ll be succeeded by Gerald Gallagher, currently chief operating officer of the Evanston-based, four-hospital network. Neaman, who also is president of the system, will become executive chairman of the board until he retires, likely around December 2018.

“We’re at a point of inflection where the organization is doing very well,” Neaman, 66, said in an interview. “We have very strong positive financial results again this year. But I think over the next few years, Northshore is going to have to go a bit deeper.”

The vision includes more growth for NorthShore — in people, facilities and technologies — at a time of immense change in the healthcare industry. The task will fall to Gallagher, 46, with Neaman’s help as he stays on to guide the transition.

Neaman has spent his entire career at NorthShore. He was fresh out of graduate school when he arrived in 1974 to be the administrative assistant to the president of what was then Evanston Hospital. The lone community medical center had around 1,000 employees and about $100 million in revenue.

In 1992, Neaman was tapped to be CEO. Fast forward to 2017, he’s built Evanston Hospital into one of the most affluent systems in the region, with $2.1 billion in annual revenue. Besides Evanston, NorthShore has hospitals in Glenview, Highland Park and Skokie, as well as 2,000 physicians and around 100 outpatient sites.

During Neaman’s tenure, he established a research institute and forged partnerships with the prestigious Mayo Clinic and University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine. In an industry that notably resists change, NorthShore was an early adopter of digital medical records and has embraced other technologies to advance treatments and make patient care more convenient. Patients can book appointments via their smart phones, while doctors are using patients’ genetic make up to predict their risk for things like heart disease or having a bad reaction to a certain drug.

Another feat: NorthShore hasn’t had an annual operating loss during Neaman’s tenure. Just last year, NorthShore trimmed $20 million in part by using data analytics to see what’s driving outcomes of procedures and treatments. For example, in spine surgery, some implants and devices weren’t performing as well as NorthShore wanted, so the system changed the way it did the procedure.

“I think it’s been a consistent drive to keep getting better,” Neaman said. “Never being satisfied.”

FAILED ADVOCATE MERGER

Still, there were disappointments, chiefly the failed merger with Advocate Health Care, the largest hospital network in Illinois. Combined, the systems would have created one of the largest non-profit networks in the nation. But they walked away in March after a lengthy fight with federal regulators who worried the marriage would hike prices for patients.

“Those who have been hurt the most are consumers,” Neaman said. “The merger was intended to induce additional competition and choice and innovation in the health care system.”

Gallagher, who goes by J.P., was selected amid an internal search. He’s been chief operating officer at NorthShore since 2012, and before that spent 10 years in other various leadership roles there, including as president of Evanston Hospital. Before joining NorthShore, Gallagher worked at Advocate Christ Medical Center in south suburban Oak Lawn.

Longtime NorthShore CEO to step down” originally appeared in Crain’s Chicago Business.