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Flossmoor resident takes helm at South Suburban Hospital

Advocate South Suburban Hospital’s new president is Michelle Blakely, a 20-year resident of Flossmoor.

Her goal, she says, is to work with a great staff to provide people the best health care possible. Blakely said she recognizes that “if we’re successful, we keep people out of our building. Nobody wants to be in a hospital.” 

Michelle Blakely

“Our goal is to do what we can to help a person maintain their health.  And when they have a need to intersect with our space it’s to take care of them in a very patient-centric way to help them leave us,” she said.

For acute care, Blakely said South Suburban Hospital’s Center for Acute Care is “a beautiful space of healing and we give a procedure and hopefully (the patient) is discharged that day.” 

But health care is multi-faceted. Blakely said the staff is working through a community health worker to help patients in Homewood and Flossmoor recognize the challenges in their lives. The COVID-19 pandemic brought a greater recognition to stressors and how health was impacted by daily life.

“Those of us within the hospital walls were aware of it — things like food, access to security, access to education, access to work. All of those are detriments of health. When those things are aligned and work well, people generally do better,” she said.

The pandemic also drew attention to mental health needs. The hospital started assessing its mental health services four years ago as part of a health care needs assessment, and now is working on establishing a 27-bed facility for in-patient care for behavioral health. Work on the $20 million facility should begin in January 2023. 

“COVID was really hard from a medical health care and a mental health care space because I think that idea of creating isolation for people, changing how they make a living, all of those things have been really hard for a person’s mental health. COVID was a beast.”

Raised on the south side of Chicago, Blakely graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in psychology. She went on to earn a master’s degree in health services administration from the University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in organizational leadership from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

Before taking management positions in private health care, Blakely spent the first 30 years of her career with the Veterans Administration. Her last position was chief operating officer and associate medical center director at the VA’s Jesse Brown Medical Center in Chicago, where she was part of a team that helped develop the VA clinic in Crown Point, Indiana.

Blakely accepted the presidency for Advocate South Suburban on Oct. 1 after having served as president of Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wisconsin.

During the time she worked in Wisconsin, she always told people she lived in the Chicago area. Grafton is about 20 miles north of Milwaukee. It was close enough for her to come back to Flossmoor on the weekends.

She’s lived in various Midwest locations while working for the VA, including Minneapolis, Nashville and Hot Springs, Arkansas. Now her job keeps her close to home and to her brother’s family in Flossmoor. She said she can’t beat the commute down Kedzie Avenue to the hospital’s location in Hazel Crest.

She also has responsibility for Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago, formerly South Chicago Community Hospital. Running both a city and a suburban hospital brings her in contact with two different populations.

“I get the pleasure and the benefit of helping to navigate in those two worlds and looking at the unique requirements to be the health provider of choice in those communities,” she said. “It creates for me an interesting challenge and it’s fun.” The medical staffs are different, but she recognizes that they all are about community-centric care. 

“What I would want the community to think about is: I think it’s important as a health care organization that we are truly recognized as the provider of choice for the community.  To do that we have to be really intentional in listening to the needs of our community, ensuring that we provide — in addition to exceptional quality — a great patient experience,” she said.

“I encourage our community, to invest in us … to give us the opportunity to demonstrate how well we provide the care. Advocate South Suburban delivers exceptional quality,” Blakeley said. “I would love for our community to develop a long-term health care relationship with us. To current patients, I want to thank them for trusting us, because health care is a trusting relationship and I’m honored that they chose us.”

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