Alumnus Chris Mollet is the General Counsel and Executive Vice President at Edward-Elmhurst Healthcare based in Naperville, Illinois. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1979 and joined Gardner Carton and Douglas in 1982 after having worked in the legal department at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago for several years.
Q: Describe the career path that led you to your current position
A: My wife and I moved to Chicago in August of 1979 and we had to wait until February to take the bar exam. In the interim, I got a job as a law clerk at Michael Reese Hospital. That’s really where I started my law career. After I passed the Illinois bar exam that February, a staff attorney at the hospital left and I was able to walk right into his former position. I then joined Gardner Carton and Douglas in 1982 and remained with the firm through 1985. I then left to join Lutheran General Health System’s legal department as their number two lawyer -- it was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. The organization was probably one of the firm’s largest clients and it was certainly its largest health care client. I remained there until 1992 when I joined Foley & Lardner’s Chicago office. I then went to American Pharmaceutical Services, Inc. in 1996 and remained there until it completed its reorganization under Chapter 11 in 2002. That’s when I became Associate University Counsel and Chief Health Law Counsel at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I remained there for 10 years until I accepted the General Counsel position with Edward Hospital & Health Services, which soon merged with Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare.
Q: Did you have any mentors at Gardner Carton and Douglas?
A: Ed Bryant was definitely a mentor, as was Bill Roach. I worked more with Ed than I did with any other partner in the firm. One of the running jokes was that Ed found out early on that I was born in North Dakota and he liked that fact because he seemed to have this talent for acquiring clients in the Midwest. Bismarck, North Dakota; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Duluth, Minnesota were three that I remember clearly. We always seemed to be visiting those clients in the dead of winter.
Q: What are some of your fondest memories from your time at the firm or lessons you learned that have proven particularly helpful in your career?
A: I remember well the strong sense of camaraderie that developed among the health law lawyers at GCD. We spent many long hours working for our clients and we all got along well and had good working relationships. I think though that I may have taken the most away from watching Ed Bryant “work the board room.” It was something he excelled at – he had this incredible and unusual ability to explain the most difficult concepts to leaders and other lay people in a disciplined and easy to follow way, as well as an innate ability to read the room well and react to the issues and concerns of his clients.
Q: Very shortly after you joined Edward Hospital & Health Services you learned that the organization would be merging with Elmhurst Memorial Healthcare. What was that experience like?
A: Within six weeks of my taking the position, we were in serious discussions with Elmhurst. You could say I had a very fast start here. In addition to the merger keeping me busy from the get-go, there had been some disruption in the legal department after the long-time GC Nanette Bufalino left. She was with Edward for 17 years. After she departed, someone else was brought in to fill the role but didn’t last long. Nanette was a tough act to follow. So in addition to dealing with all of the acquisition related issues, I was also trying to address and build morale within the department. In retrospect, I think the timing of the transaction actually helped us in some ways because we all had to work very closely with each other.
Q: How many people are on your legal team?
A: In addition to me, we have three full-time lawyers, two half-time lawyers and three paralegals.
Q: You have an awful lot on your plate but is there something you can point to that you find particularly rewarding or enjoyable?
A: I think the part of my position that I enjoy the most is the opportunity to be a part of planning and implementing the overall strategy of the organization. I enjoy being in business and senior management meetings helping to formulate strategy and discuss how we can accomplish the organization’s goals. I'm lucky to be part of an organization that embraces the role of a lawyer as a strategic partner. When you’re in private practice, you are often trying to untangle, redirect or rehabilitate something. I get to help contribute to the business’ overall plan, strategy and approach to transactions as well as the resolution of conflicts and other matters.
Q: What is your proudest career or personal achievement?
A: One that springs to mind is what was achieved while I served on my community’s school board. I was appointed to the school board to fill a vacancy and then ran for a four-year term. I subsequently was elected President of the School Board. When I first joined, there were a number of difficult issues going on. First, we discovered we weren't going to be able to make payroll for the teachers and we were also coming to the end of a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the teacher’s union. That contract had come about as a result of a 10-day strike and there remained a lot of anger and bitterness among the teachers. We worked our way through it all and managed to have a reasonable bargaining process that resulted in a fair contract for both sides. Putting the district back on strong financial footing by successfully passing a property tax increase referendum, restoring labor peace and harmony among the teachers and developing great programs are all significant achievements that happened while I was President. That was an incredibly valuable and rewarding experience.
Q: So much is changing in the health care industry. What do you see as the greatest legal or other challenges currently facing hospitals and health care providers today?
A: I think we're all trying to figure out how to move quickly into the new paradigm where payment is based on value as opposed to payment based on the organization’s costs. However, we still need to be continuously providing the best product and producing the best output which means excellent patient care and overall patient experience. Providing the best patient experience in this environment is increasingly challenging. At Edward-Elmhurst, we also know that we're probably not large enough to continue to stand on our own. This means we either have to figure out how to get bigger in a way that makes sense by acquiring other excellent hospitals or we have to think about whether it makes sense for us to join another organization.
Another challenge that we have to deal with is the changing nature of the practice for physicians, what that means for them in terms of their personal satisfaction and then what that in turn means for us with respect to the environment we provide for them to in which to practice. If you're an internal medicine doctor or a family practice doctor and you’re patient is admitted to the hospital, you are going to have less and less to do with his or her care because that is now being managed by the hospitalists. It’s a very difficult thing for lots physicians, especially older physicians, who were used to visiting and determining the care for their patients. It’s also very challenging for the patients who expect to see their primary doctor walk into their hospital room every morning to check on them and prescribe their care. Patients in hospitals just aren’t being seen by those doctors anymore. A lot is changing for younger doctors too. They’re coming out of medical school with huge amounts of debt.
Q: As GC, are there any other issues keeping you up at night?
A: One thing that concerns me is a potential data breach. The entire industry is vulnerable. Everyone is demanding more and more connectivity of information and records but that connectivity dramatically increases the risk of a data breach occurring. Cyber liability insurance coverage for these types of breaches exists but the costs continue to rise. We’re coming up on the renewal of our policies and even though we’ve had no significant data breaches and have a good record, we anticipate anywhere between a 60 to 100 percent increase in our premium for the same amount of coverage. This is a reflection of what’s happening in the industry.
Q: Do you have any words of advice for young lawyers?
A: The best piece of advice that I could give any younger lawyer would be that they should, before they even start to read or draft any legal document, take a moment to stop and think about what the client’s business objectives are. Think about what the particular client is trying to achieve with the project you’ve been given or the overall transaction and if you don’t know, you need to ask a partner or more senior lawyer who does know.
Q: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
A: We enjoy travel, theatre and also sampling all the wonderful restaurants in Chicago. We are fortunate enough to have a small place in the city and we try to go there as often as we can on the weekends to enjoy all that Chicago has to offer.