If Michael Israel played football, he’d be the quarterback who scrambles out of the pocket to find a receiver or, failing that, who tucks the ball into his gut and plunges fearlessly into a line of defensive behemoths. As CEO of Westchester Medical Center, that’s the way he advances the corporate ball toward the goal line.
His playbook hasn’t always been popular. During the seven years he’s been at the helm of the $900 million institution, which treats 120,000 patients annually, Israel has been excoriated by the unions and the press for closing units, outsourcing services, and laying off hundreds of workers—most recently, 250 positions cut in response to unexpected pension costs imposed this year by the state.
Strangely enough, the headlines ignore less incendiary facts like the 6-percent increase in WMC staff since he came on in 2005 (to 3,500 people today) and $128 million in capital investments since the start of 2011. When Israel arrived, the capital budget was $10 million, all provided by the county.
“Before this management team came,” he explains, “this institution had lost two hundred thirty million dollars over four years. This year will be our seventh year of profitability in a row.” The hospital became independent in 1998. Until two years ago, Westchester County guaranteed its debt and provided as much as $12 million in in-kind support. That’s now gone, even though the legacy costs remain—especially huge retirement benefits.
“We have a two-thousand-pound anchor in post-retirement health benefits and the New York State pension plan,” Israel points out. “This year, we’re paying forty-eight million dollars more than our competitors.” In terms of people, he says, that’s about 480 full-time employees.
Israel, 58, says planning for the future is difficult, but not impossible—as long as you are nimble. “We can put together a three-year programmatic plan, but predictability on the financial side lags,” he says. “Medicaid, for example, can announce a change in September that’s retroactive to the beginning of the year—and we could lose money we’ve already collected.” As you move forward, he points out, you have to merge the program and financial plans year by year.
Like a determined quarterback, he says he intends to keep moving the ball forward. “I believe that the best days of this institution are ahead of it.”