Fred Benjamin confers with a staff member at the Imperial Nursing and Rehabilitation Center

Sometimes where a person goes to school can make all the difference.

"The University of Illinois has been one of the guiding forces in my life," says Fred Benjamin, MS, MPH, MBA. "I'll be forever grateful to the school."

As an undergraduate at UIC, Benjamin was a typical biology major. He wanted a career in health care, but the only professional title he could imagine for himself was "doctor." Worn out by strenuous chemistry courses and a highly competitive atmosphere, Benjamin took time off between his junior and senior years to consider other options.

"I worked in the cardiovascular research lab of a big pharmaceutical company for a year, and I used the time to think about what I wanted to do," Benjamin says. "I decided on a career in medical management rather than direct patient care, and that evolved into a focus on hospital administration."

Benjamin returned to school, received his BS in 1974, and applied to the UIUC College of Business Administration. He assumed that his grades, test scores, and recommendations would make him a shoo-in, but he applied late and was rejected because all the places in the entering class had already been taken. Undaunted, he attended classes for several days until a representative from the dean's office told him that he was welcome to enter the program, but not until the following semester.

Benjamin found this roadblock frustrating, but his fiancée, a UIUC senior, took it as a challenge. She scanned the university's course catalog and suggested he apply to the Masterís Program in Health Education and Safety. "I told my story to the head of the program, Don Stone," Benjamin says. "It turned out he'd just gotten off the phone with a guy who was supposed to come to the program, but had changed his mind. The guy had been offered a scholarship. It was the first week of school, and they didn't have anyone else to give it to, Stone said, so they might as well give it to me. It was a dream come true."

Benjamin received his MS in 1976, then completed his MPH at UIC SPH in 1977. A residency in hospital administration at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago - where he worked with Marie Sinioris, vice president for planning and a fellow UIC MPH graduate - focused his interests. When he left Rush in 1978 to work at the American Hospital Association, Benjaminís thoughts had turned to planning. At the AHA, he worked on the Project for Institutional Effectiveness Review, creating a program that hospitals could use to audit their financial and clinical effectiveness.

In 1979, Benjamin accepted a job at Grant Hospital where, as an MPH student, he had been a member of the Associate Board of Directors. He spent fourteen years at Grant, beginning as administrative assistant to the chairman of surgery and finishing as vice president of operations. In 1987, he received his MBA from the University of Chicago.

During Benjamin's years at Grant, the Medicare reimbursement system changed dramatically. Hospital closings, mergers, and acquisitions were widespread. Grant's administrators realized that to survive and thrive under the new system, they would have to develop closer relationships with community agencies and local seniorsí groups. Benjamin, then vice president of planning, visited long-term care administrators and facility owners. He responded to their needs and concerns by building a comprehensive and highly successful geriatric program at Grant. His projects included developing relationships with area long-term care facilities. These featured educational seminars for nurses and a free Seniorsí Club where neighborhood older adults came to be seen by Grant doctors, and to socialize, share holiday meals, and watch movies from the 1930s and 1940s.

Benjamin's developing knowledge of long-term care led to his next job. In December 1992, he was recruited to serve as president of NuCare Management Corporation, a Chicago-based company that owned four facilities comprising 1,000 long-term care beds.

Under pressure from payers, hospitals were moving patients through their systems "quicker and sicker." In response, Benjamin's company geared its services to provide a higher level of services featuring rehabilitation and subacute care. It partnered with local hospitals, hospital systems, and managed care companies to create a set of services and a continuum of care for seniors and other patients in the health care system. "People used to view nursing homes as final destinations," Benjamin says. "Now they are used increasingly for short-term care, with the idea that people will be rehabilitated, sent home, and seen by home care workers. We work with various members of the health care system to get people through a bout of illness in the most clinically and financially efficient way possible."

Today, Benjamin is president of CarePath Health Network (NuCare is a member of CarePath), a 3,000-bed operation with eleven Chicago-area facilities in place and three under construction. Since 1994, he has represented long-term care as a member of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board.

UIC's School of Public Health remains a primary interest for Benjamin. He served on the U of I Alumni Association board for six years as chairman of the strategic planning committee and is currently a member of the School of Public Health Dean's Advisory Council. In 1996, the Alumni Association honored him with its Loyalty Award.

"Public health is basic to the daily life of every single person," Benjamin says. "It crosses socioeconomic and geographic borderlines. It addresses issues as varied as violence, the spread of HIV, the influence of industrial toxins in cancer, and the management of myriad health care agencies. Public health will continue to provide opportunities for people who want to do something for their fellow man and want to be proud of what they do for a living."

Contributed by Janice Rosenberg

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