Emory Healthcare chief jumps to Michigan system

In a move that caught industry experts by surprise, the president and CEO of Emory Healthcare announced Wednesday that he is leaving those jobs for the same positions with a Detroit-based health system.

John Fox
John Fox

John Fox will begin his tenure at Beaumont Health System in March. The Michigan system was formed in September through a consolidation of Beaumont Health System, Oakwood Healthcare and Botsford Health Care.

“While leaving Emory Healthcare is a difficult decision, the challenge of leading Beaumont Health System, as well as the opportunity to be closer to family, played a significant role in this decision,” Fox said in a statement.

At least on paper, the nonprofit Beaumont appears to be a larger health system than Emory, having net revenues of nearly $4 billion and consisting of eight hospitals with 3,337 beds, 153 outpatient sites, 5,000 physicians, more than 33,000 employees and 3,500 volunteers.

Emory Healthcare, with about $2.7 billion in annual revenue, has six hospitals, 200 provider locations and 1,800 physicians.

Its flagship Atlanta hospital, Emory University Hospital, has gained national attention in recent months for its role in the fight against Ebola. It was the first U.S. facility ever to treat an Ebola patient, and Emory has successfully treated all four Ebola patients admitted there.

“John has built an exceptionally strong leadership team, and they will remain in place and continue to function in their current roles,” said Dr. Wright Caughman, CEO of Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center, in a statement. “We are appreciative of all that John has accomplished in his 15 years at Emory, and thanks in large part to John’s leadership, Emory Healthcare is well positioned to engage, flourish and lead through the changes that will be part of the landscape of academic health care in the 21st century.”

Fox joined Emory Healthcare in 1999 as chief operating officer. He became CEO in 2002.

Chris Kane, a health care consultant with DHG Healthcare, said Wednesday that Fox directed successful strategic initiatives for Emory.

They included Emory opening a new hospital in Johns Creek in the northern Atlanta suburbs in 2007, and forming a joint operating company with St. Joseph’s Hospital of Atlanta in 2012.

Emory St. Joseph's Hospital
Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital

“Emory has a unique role in the Georgia and Southeast region with the depth of its patient care, medical education and research,’’ Kane said. “Its balance sheet, brand and geographic draw are notable advantages.”

“In the short term, Emory’s competitors may hope for inertia in Emory’s growth,” said Kane, who added, “The consolidation of hospitals in Michigan and the economy of the metro Detroit area present opportunities and challenges for John in his new role.”

Fox will succeed Gene Michalski, who will retire this year, Beaumont Health said.

“John Fox is one of the most recognized leaders in all of health care today,” John D. Lewis, board chairman of Beaumont Health, said in a statement. “Over the past 15 years, he has led Emory Healthcare to become one of the top-rated health systems in the country for quality and patient safety. John and his team’s recent work in successfully caring for Ebola patients and their families further established Emory’s reputation for outstanding care.”

Fox said of his new role: “I am honored to have this opportunity to work with the outstanding team at Beaumont Health. The accomplishments and reputation of all three founding organizations have been known to me for many years. The prospect of working together to build an integrated, high-performance system for the future is very exciting.”

David Smith of Kearny Street Consulting in Alpharetta said Wednesday that Fox’s departure came as a surprise. “It seems like everything at Emory is running well,’’ Smith said.

Fox faces a challenge in merging three hospital cultures into one at Beaumont Health, Smith noted.

“I think it’s a good position for John,’’ Smith said. “He’s got a lot of energy and good ideas.”

As for Fox’s successor at Emory, Smith added, “they can probably have the pick of anyone they want.”