Pittsburgh Business Times: 20 People to Know in Health Care: Dr. John Sullivan, senior vice president/chief medical officer, St. Clair Health

Dr. John Sullivan, chief medical officer of St. Clair Health, is part of the Western PA Regional Chief Medical Officers Consortium, which includes the top medical officers of 12 major regional health systems and providers. Through the pandemic, it has provided medical information to residents as well as a place for the CMOs to discuss issues surrounding Covid, best practices and the region’s response. His fours years leading health care delivery at St. Clair Health were preceded by seven years as associate CMO at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. He was also a medical officer in the U.S. Navy for 33 years through 2020.


What was the most surprising development to come out of the pandemic?

Meaningful collaboration among health system leadership, accelerated transformation in health care delivery and the persistent workforce supply challenges.

Passing two years of pandemic impacts, how large an issue is fatigue in your organization?

We have certainly seen the pandemic contribute to burnout in valuable members of our team, and others have re-examined their lives and priorities. Nonetheless, I feel confident that our field will remain a compelling draw for rising young talent because of the undeniably meaningful nature of our work. Health care work is not simply transactional; we interact and touch people at the most vulnerable times of their lives.

What do you think should be done larger scale — through industrywide/trade group/governmental approaches — to address the mid- and long-term staffing issues and to train and retain more health care workers?

The health care industry has received substantial support to minimize the disruption of the pandemic, and it has been vital. Moving forward, the government should work to reduce the financial burden for prospective workers who are pursuing degrees or training programs required to enter many of our technical fields. Educational entities should re-evaluate their programs and identify creative pathways into the industry that can reach into untapped sources of potential workers.

With the industry needing stimulus support in many cases to weather the impacts of the pandemic, what are your biggest concerns financially for hospitals and health systems?

With premium labor costs, supply inflation, and flat or worsened reimbursements for services, I fear institutions will cut back programs and that some hospitals may close. Inevitably, this will disproportionately affect individuals and communities that are already vulnerable. The starkest example can be found in mental health services, which are already underresourced.

What do health care providers need in this next phase of the pandemic and moving beyond it?

More than anything, we need normalcy. It has been psychologically challenging to endure a longer-term disruption to health care, and our lives, than most envisioned when the pandemic started in 2020. These last two months have provided the only meaningful recovery time since the pandemic began and has given us the opportunity to re-energize and rededicate ourselves to that which we committed our careers: serving our community with the highest quality care.

What is your favorite portrayal of the medical profession in film or TV?

Stephen Maturin, naval surgeon, naturalist and spy in Patrick O’Brien’s historical nautical series beginning with “Master and Commander.”

What are you reading or what is a notable interesting recent read?

James Holland’s “The Battle of Britain” provides lessons in resolute leadership when on the brink and Joan Didion’s “The White Album” notes observations of social culture in the turbulent late ‘60s.

By   –  Research Director, Pittsburgh Business Times