Healthy Momentum

Robert Barrish (Photo By Lloyd Degrane)
Dr. Robert Barish is propelling UIC’s health sciences to greater prominence by vigorously promoting program and University-wide collaborations.

Change doesn’t always come easily. Dr. Robert Barish, UIC’s vice chancellor of health affairs, simply makes it seem that way.

Having served as chancellor of Louisiana State University Health Sciences Services in Shreveport and in various health-care capacities at the University of Maryland, he arrived in Chicago this past January, reporting directly to UIC Chancellor Michael Arimids rather than University of Illinois’ president, as predecessors in similar positions did. As Barish knows, this greater autonomy holds the potential to advance UIC’s position as a provider of education and care in the health sciences arena.

As such, he joined the campus with vision, but vowing to maintain stability while promoting collaboration among UIC’s seven health science colleges and regional campuses; UI Hospital and Health Sciences System; and the 13 Mile Square federally qualified health centers.

“Some leaders like to come in and [immediately] make changes, but I knew we had outstanding deans and hospital administrators already in place,” Barish says. “The trick was to promote deeper collaboration because health care is a team effort.”

He’s also been tasked with building stronger synergies between UIC’s health-care focused West Campus and multidisciplinary East Campus.

The new Innovation Medicine program, for instance, has medical and engineering students working side by side to develop innovative medical devices.

“When we leverage our collective strengths, we can only get better,” Barish says.

New programs, higher rankings

Such programs also reflect an initiative to realign the health care enterprise under the UIC brand.

“We wanted to remind people the hospital system is part of UIC and proud to be so,” Barish says. “Now we’re all moving in the same direction.”

This more unified front has reaped immediate gains, including competitive grants, improved student training, better patient care and opportunities to participate in new research programs. In July, for example, UIC joined Northwestern University and the University of Chicago to lead the Illinois Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program, part of a nationwide initiative to involve more than 1 million traditionally underrepresented groups in clinical trials.

The results speak for themselves. Upon Barish’s arrival, UI Health ranked 23rd in the Chicagoland area and 27th among the state’s 210 hospitals, according to U.S. News & World Report’s annual rating of Best Regional Hospitals.

In rankings released this past August, UI Health skyrocketed to No. 8 both locally and statewide, an ascent fueled by special emphasis on quality and safety that improved patient survival and reduced sepsis mortality, post-operative blood clots and hospital-acquired infections.

“It’s a great morale booster for people throughout the system,” Barish says of the rating.

But, he adds, it only marks the beginning.

Look no farther than groundbreaking research work being done, Barish says, including that of UIC Head of Surgery, Dr. Enrico Benedetti, RES ’93, who has employed an orphan drug to perform kidney transplants in instances where donor and recipient are not a perfect match. Additionally, College of Medicine researchers Dr. Michael Abern and Dr. Peter Gann are investigating new methods to detect aggressive prostate cancers.

Barish also lauds cutting-edge academic training, including use of Google Glass technology, which allows medical students to view procedures earlier in their studies. As for health-care delivery, UIC opened a new clinic in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

“It’s not just genetic codes, but zip codes and reaching into areas where health care is lacking to change access and communities for the better,” Barish says. “There’s great pride here in being the ‘University for Chicago.’”

As programs involving quality, safety and collaboration improve, Barish believes a top-five ranking from U.S. News & World Report lies within reach of UIC.

“There’s a lot of confidence among our team we can get there,” Barish says, “and helping our team fulfill that mission gets me up every day.”

Points of Pride

Accomplishments range from improved emergency care to successful online academic programs to notable ways in which UI Health is leading the way in health-care delivery, research and academics.

Earlier this year, UI Health opened a Clinical Decision Unit, a 16-bed facility that allows acceptance of more patients in true need of emergency care.

UI Health’s pioneering Better Health Through Housing program recently wrapped up its pilot year and is working to complete placement of 25 chronically homeless emergency patients into permanent housing.

U.S. News & World Report ranked a pair of UIC online academic programs—nursing and health information management—second in the nation.

UIC is one of three Chicago universities to share a $17.4 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to collectively establish the Chicago Cancer Health Equity Collaborative, a program focused on cancer research, education, training and outreach in Chicago’s underserved communities.

UI Health’s emergency department leads the Illinois Heart Rescue program, which is charged with instructing bystanders in CPR. The program has helped double the statewide survival rate for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests from 4 percent to 8 percent since its founding in 2012. —D.P.S.