When Jon Vice arrived in Milwaukee 29 years ago, the old Children’s Hospital was at a low ebb. So low, in fact, that during his first three months on the job in 1979, a regional medical board responsible for planning health care facilities said that Children’s Hospital should no longer exist.
After three decades under Vice’s leadership, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has grown to become one of the leading medical facilities for pediatric care in the country.
The hospital’s patient outcomes for heart surgery and cancer treatment are among the best in the nation. In national health care rankings by U.S. News & World Report, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin ranks in the top 25.
“A lot of children’s hospitals have had great reputations over the years,” says Vice, who will step down at the end of the year as president and chief executive officer of Children’s Hospital and Health System, a position he has held since 1984. “Because we didn’t, we had to make sure our outcomes were as good or better than theirs. I came here at a very good time, because we had nowhere to go but up.”
Over the last three decades, Wauwatosa-based Children’s Hospital and Health System has grown to become a system consisting of 14 entities, including hospitals, clinics, inpatient and outpatient care centers, physician practices, a research center, a health maintenance organization and a foundation. With a $118 million expansion underway at Children’s Hopsital, Vice is leaving the organization in good shape for the future.
“I never said that I am going to retire,” says Vice, 61, who plans to further his leadership role in the Children’s Miracle Network, while also joining the faculty of his alma mater, the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
Under his leadership, Children’s Hospital and Health System established school-based health centers, taking primary pediatric care into low-income Milwaukee neighborhoods where no services existed before. The centers have evolved into school nursing programs in 38 schools throughout the city, with primary care an important step in improving the health and well-being of children.
In 1999, under Vice’s direction, the Children’s Health Education Center was established in Milwaukee as a destination for children and adults to learn how to be healthier. The center provides educational programs to 75,000 children and adults through field trips, classroom outreach and online programming. BlueKids.org covers topics such as dental health, positive body image and bullying prevention and safety.
The outreach to children and families accelerated in 2004 with the integration of Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin, which is the state’s largest private provider of child welfare services. Vice’s philosophy behind the affiliation was simple: to provide a safe, nurturing environment for children in their homes to prevent situations that could lead to hospitalization.
Under Vice’s leadership, Children’s Hospital and Health System has become one of the nation’s largest non-governmental providers of child advocacy centers. Children’s Service Society has advanced Vice’s vision to establish child advocacy centers throughout Wisconsin, bringing community agencies together in support of suspected victims of abuse and neglect. There are now six centers across the state that provide case documentation along with medical developmental and social work evaluations.
“Child abuse is one of my personal issues — dealing with society’s efforts of maltreatment of children,” Vice says. “We’re not going to cure that in a research lab.”
Vice continues to focus on elevating the level of care and service for children, whether in sharing new discoveries or treatment modalities that emanate from Children’s Hospital or attracting and training pediatricians who stay here or migrate elsewhere throughout the state.
“We have an opportunity to raise the level of care throughout the state, whether they end up staying here or not,” he says.
Vice vows to remain active. He is on the board of directors of Children’s Miracle Network in Ireland and the United Kingdom. and he figures to do some traveling in Europe and the American Southwest, in addition to his appointment to the UAB faculty.
“My big fear is, now that I have announced that I am stepping down, I have a lot of opportunities that are coming at me,” Vice says. “I want to have some time to enjoy my life and still make a difference. I would like to enjoy my postcareer.”
Even with all of the traveling, Vice plans to maintain his primary residence in Wisconsin.
“I have been here 29 years, so this is home,” he says. “We also have a house in Florida, so you won’t see me here in March.”