Retiring Edward-Elmhurst Health CEO Pam Davis reflects on her 28-year tenure

In 28 years leading Naperville's Edward Hospital, Pam Davis nurtured specialties in cardiac, cancer and neurological care, built a sister hospital in Plainfield, merged with a third hospital in Elmhurst and fulfilled her long-held career goal of becoming a hospital president.

Now Davis, 68, is preparing to retire and hand the reins of Edward-Elmhurst Health to Mary Lou Mastro, with whom she is serving as co-CEO until June 30.

She's looking back on a career spent creating a "kind culture" so the hospital can make an even greater difference. She's recalling moments such as the 2013 merger with Elmhurst Hospital and the 2004 Plainfield hospital negotiations when she helped document corruption that led to the imprisonment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

The Daily Herald recently sat down with Davis as she shared some of her memories. Here's an edited version of the conversation.

Q. How did you know hospital work was the right career for you?

A. I knew very early on that I wanted to be a hospital president. Both my parents were physicians and at the time that was very unusual, so it seemed normal to me that a female worked at a high-level position. I used to make rounds with my father on Saturdays and Sundays, and I just loved the way hospitals felt.

I liked the tapping of the shoes down the hallway. I liked the organizational piece of it and I was very curious about how you got food to all the patients, how you do all that laundry, how the nurses know where they should be. I knew when I was probably 8 or 9 years old that's what I wanted to do.

Q. What was the best outcome of the decision to merge Edward and Elmhurst hospitals?

A. We now have three thriving hospitals that provide excellent quality and in a way that patients and physicians recognize it, and employees want to work here. I still like the philosophy of being small and nimble, but we needed to merge so we could have a larger number of patients, a larger geographic spread and cost reduction.

Q. What do you think should be done to fix the nation's health care system?

A. My philosophy is we have to have individual responsibility. We have set up a system where someone else has traditionally been paying the bills; that is inherently inefficient. If it's not your money, you are not going to watch or care what services are offered or where you might go to have it be less expensive.

We have raised a population where many people feel very little responsibility toward their own involvement in keeping themselves healthy because someone else will be the rescuer. That is not sustainable.

Q. What public policies have you influenced during your career?

A. I've helped create an emphasis on mental health. We did a lot of work on mental health parity, which means your insurance should not discriminate against your treatment if it's mental health versus acute care for diseases. That has been a big focus.

And hospitals paying their fair share of indigent care and Medicaid. We've worked on laws that help spread that money from all hospitals to hospitals that are in the inner city and couldn't possibly make it without some appropriate sharing.

Q. Looking back on your role in the corruption probe that led to the imprisonment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, what was it like to be involved in such an investigation?

A. I feel I was being a good citizen and I think society needs to have good citizens. That means not just you yourself doing the right thing, but actually standing up when you see somebody doing the wrong thing.

Q. Your goal early in your career was to make Edward Hospital the best medical provider in the region? Did you accomplish that?

A. My first two jobs were at major teaching hospitals - Lutheran General (in Park Ridge) and Christ (in Oak Lawn). They were excellent major regional providers.

So when I came to Edward, I thought, why shouldn't I make it like that model? Those models included intensive care units, they included specialty care for neurology and cancer. So I really just modeled what I had learned.

The model now is that at excellent suburban hospitals you can attract the best physicians and staff and you can put the equipment there and people can get incredible care close to home.

Q. How have you made a difference in people's lives?

A. By setting this workplace as a kind culture. It's smart people, but just being smart is not enough. You need to be smart and kind. Here, you do the small things - you help escort, you answer somebody's question, you're not short with people, you don't yell at people. And being inclusive. This is not a prejudicial organization. We like diversity.

Q. What's the best thing about your decision to retire?

A. I get to reinvent myself one more time. I'm looking at a number of things. I want to teach English as a second language in DuPage County. I'm serving on a number of nonprofit boards and I'm looking at perhaps teaching a class on leadership.

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  Edward-Elmhurst Health CEO Pam Davis looks out over Edward Hospital in Naperville, where she is retiring June 30 after a 28-year career. Bev Horne/

Pam Davis: A look back

A look back at some of the accomplishments during the Pam Davis era at Edward Hospital in Naperville and Elmhurst Hospital:

1988: Opens Edward Health & Fitness Center, first medically based fitness center in DuPage County.

1991: Opens first all-private inpatient rooms in Illinois.

1999: Purchases Linden Oaks Hospital.

2000: Opens first pediatric emergency department in DuPage County.

2002: Creates first-of-its-kind Heart Hospital.

2002: Begins Animal-Assisted Therapy program, one of the largest programs of its kind in the nation.

2005: Achieves Magnet Status for Nursing Excellence at Edward Hospital (also in 2010 and 2014).

2005: Opens 40,000-square-foot Edward Cancer Center.

2006: Establishes Plainfield campus.

2009: Develops world-class stroke care through an affiliation with Northwestern Medicine.

2011: Founds Illinois Health Partners accountable care organization with DuPage Medical Group.

2012: Opens first Walk-In Clinic in Jewel-Osco.

2012: Opens first Ronald McDonald Family Room in Illinois.

2013: Oversees successful merger between Edward and Elmhurst hospitals.

2013: Opens 32,000-square-foot Center for Cancer Care on Elmhurst Hospital campus (now the Nancy W. Knowles Cancer Center).

2015: Achieves Magnet Status for Nursing Excellence at Elmhurst Hospital.

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