Northwest Community Hospital is defending its decision to employ a chief medical officer who was not licensed to practice medicine.
Leighton Smith, who served as the Arlington Heights hospital's chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs for nearly eight years before stepping down June 1, has not been licensed to practice medicine since 1999, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
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Smith is now a senior advisor at BDC Advisors of Chicago. According to the consulting firm's website, he previously worked as a family practice residency director and headed a department at the University of Illinois at Chicago before serving as the president of Lutheran General Medical Group. He also served as senior and executive vice president within the Lutheran and Advocate Health systems.
Northwest Community Hospital spokeswoman Jackie Speckin said Monday hospital officials were aware of Smith's expired license when he was hired. She said the state does not require chief medical officers to be licensed because the job is purely administrative and does not involve directly treating patients.
"It's just simply not a requirement of the position," Speckin said. "For his administrative duties, it's really irrelevant."
Smith's administrative duties included overseeing the 496-bed facility's medical staff, credentialing, setting policy and quality and patient satisfaction initiatives. While some chief medical officers at other hospitals do have an active medical license, some don't, Speckin said.
"Just because somebody does not have his own medical practice doesn't mean that he is not up-to-date in the technologies and medical treatments," she said.
Alexian Brothers Health System spokesman Matt Wakely said the chief medical officers at the network's two acute care hospitals in Elk Grove Village and Hoffman Estates are licensed physicians.
It's unclear how uncommon it is for a hospital's chief medical officer to be unlicensed.
The Illinois Department of Public Health, which regulates more than 200 hospitals in the state, could not confirm Monday how many of those chief medical officers are licensed, but a spokeswoman for the agency said it is not required by law.
Northwest Community Hospital is currently searching for a new chief medical officer, Speckin said, and may again hire someone without a professional license if the person's experience and qualifications fit the job.
"It wouldn't change the situation that they do not have to have that license," she added.