New Thomas Jefferson U. leader plans a revolution

Posted: June 22, 2013

Stephen K. Klasko, a Philadelphia native named Thursday as president of Thomas Jefferson University and chief executive of the system that includes Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals and Jefferson University Physicians, says he is returning to lead a health-care revolution.

"The absolute biggest risk in health care in 2013 is doing what you're doing today two years from now," said Klasko, 59, who since 2004 has been dean of the University of South Florida's Morsani College of Medicine and CEO of the affiliated USF Health, both in Tampa.

"If we do that, we will not be successful," Klasko said Thursday at his introduction to the Jefferson community in the Dorrance H. Hamilton Building in Center City.

In Florida, Klasko developed a reputation for making changes at a rapid-fire pace and innovations that upset the status quo. He even has an institute in Tampa named after him: the Stephen K. Klasko Institute for an Optimistic Future in Healthcare.

The position bringing Klasko, whose parents moved from Overbrook Park to Havertown after he was born, back to Philadelphia. He last worked as dean of Drexel University College of Medicine.

His job is a new one at Jefferson, which employs more than 12,000 people. He will start in September.

Since the late 1990s, after Jefferson joined with Main Line Health to form the Jefferson Health System, Thomas Jefferson University and the affiliated health-care facilities have had separate leaders.

The separation of the university and the hospital in the 1990s did what it was supposed to do, said William Landman, chairman of TJUH System Inc., the holding company for Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals. "It guaranteed the financial integrity of the academic mission" at a time when the hospital was losing money, said Landman.

Then last year, Thomas Jefferson University president Robert L. Barchi left to became president of Rutgers University, and hospital president and CEO Thomas J. Lewis retired.

"When they both left simultaneously, that gave us an opportunity" to name one overall leader, said David Binswanger, chair of Thomas Jefferson University's board of trustees.

"That's really significant, because with everything that's going on in the health-care industry, the Jefferson campus, the research mission, the clinical mission, the academic mission, have to be intertwined. It is the only way for us to be successful in the new environment."

Alan Zuckerman, president of Health Strategies & Solutions Inc., said nationally, many academic medical centers have gone to unified leadership. "The model they are implementing makes a lot of sense," Zuckerman said of Jefferson. "We're at a time when you have to move faster."

Health care is facing a period of turmoil, not just because of changes mandated by the Affordable Care Act but also because of independent economic pressure to reduce growth in health-care spending and improve quality.

But unlike many health-care executives, Klasko is not an advocate of industry consolidation. Instead, Klasko prefers what he calls "creative partnerships."

For example, the University of South Florida medical school created a partnership with the Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown to train students who are selected based on emotional intelligence and trained in teamwork and business, among the usual subjects.

Klasko, who has an executive MBA from Wharton, said he emphasized an "innovator-entrepreneur" tenure track at South Florida. "We had a lot of those people come to USF because we valued entrepreneurship, we valued innovation," he said.

Contact Harold Brubaker at 215-854-4651 or

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