CEO of the Year: Nick Turkal

BizTimes Best in Business

Nick Turkal

It’s been a big year for Aurora Health Care Inc.

Within the first four months of 2017, the Milwaukee-based health system had announced plans for new building projects totaling nearly $510 million. The rush of building activity set the pace for the year, as Wisconsin’s largest health system plans new clinics and medical centers, hires more employees and grows its market share in the state’s southeast region.

Nick Turkal
Credit: Kat Schleicher

The biggest announcement, however, certainly came last this year. Aurora announced plans earlier this month to merge with Advocate Health Care, the largest health care system in Illinois, touting the organizations’ combined ability to create greater efficiencies and transform delivery of care.

The union would form the 10th largest nonprofit health care system in the United States, with annual revenues of about $11 billion and a total of 73,000 employees.

In announcing those plans, Turkal, who, under the merger, would become co-CEO with Advocate Health Care CEO Jim Skogsbergh, touted the
“unprecedented opportunity” to shape the organization’s future and better serve patients.

For leading those efforts, Turkal is the BizTimes Best in Business 2017 CEO of the Year.

Whether discussing building projects, health care policy or the merger, Turkal, a former physician who’s led Aurora since 2006, tends to bring conversations back to patients.

“For us, it’s not about bricks and mortar, but about enhancing access to health care people need, when and where they need it most,” Turkal said of Aurora’s building plans. “This includes offering more outpatient and ambulatory surgery centers, which reflects the fact that more than half the care we provide is outpatient-based. This is where health care is going from a care standpoint.”

In January, Aurora announced plans to build a $130 million medical office building and outpatient care center in Kenosha, expanding its presence in the market, where it has been since 1995. The 200,000-square-foot project is expected to create an estimated 140 new jobs.

In March, the system announced it would build a $55 million ambulatory surgery center and medical office building at the 84South development in Greenfield. The 130,000-square-foot, multi-story facility will include general surgery, orthopedics, pediatrics, GI, pain management and urology.

The following month, the system announced the largest of its projects this year: a new, $324 million hospital in Kohler to replace the Aurora Sheboygan Memorial Medical Center.

Other projects have come to fruition this year, including a new $17 million, 30,000-square-foot health center on East Ryan Road in Oak Creek, which opened in September and replaced Aurora’s nearby 20-year-old clinic at 331 E. Puetz Road.

Aurora has seen growth in revenue in 2017. The health system posted $2.6 billion in revenue in the first half of 2017, up from $2.5 billion in the same period in 2016. Increased spending on salaries and supplies, meanwhile, has cut into its operating income, which was down 11.6 percent in the first half of 2017. The increase in spending on salaries and supplies reflects increased patient volumes over the prior year, the system said.

As of Sept. 1, Aurora, the largest private-sector employer in the Milwaukee area, had 33,949 employees, up from 32,720 at the same time last year.

Innovation continues to be a focus for the organization, and both Aurora and Advocate touted the financial flexibility to expand investment and scale innovation under the merger.

As the health system seeks innovations to increase the cost efficiency of operations, it is also making an investment in the region’s startup scene. The system recently announced its $5 million commitment to support health-related startups in Milwaukee with its new InvestMKE initiative, which coincides with a similar initiative from Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.

Through the initiative, Aurora will co-invest, alongside Northwestern Mutual’s new Cream City Venture Capital fund and other investment professionals, up to $1 million in early-stage health-related companies.

“Startups are at the forefront of the technology revolution and changing how we live and work,” Turkal said. “We’re fortunate to have a talented pool of entrepreneurs in the Milwaukee area who are solving problems in a variety of industries, including health care, and that pool needs to grow.”

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