Health leaders praise outgoing HFS leader

Health leaders praise outgoing HFS leader

Illinois health leaders on Wednesday praised outgoing Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Theresa Eagleson for her efforts to transform Illinois’ healthcare delivery system.

Eagleson, who has led the department since January 2019, will leave at the end of the year. Lizzy Whitehorn, who currently serves as first assistant deputy governor for health and human services, will take over as director on Jan. 1, pending Senate confirmation.

Stakeholders highlighted several initiatives overseen by Eagleson and the agency in recent years. They mentioned her work on allocations to providers as part of the Healthcare Transformation Collaboratives and her efforts to pass nursing home rate reform in 2022.

“This historic change prioritized quality, transparency and accountability as core principles to drive better resident outcomes, while increasing Medicaid nursing home funding by almost $700 million annually,” said Matt Hartman, CEO of the Illinois Health Care Association. “The ideals that underpinned this historic effort are integral to IHCA’s principles and mission of service to those we care for, and we salute Director Eagleson for her efforts.”

Ollie Idowu, CEO of the Illinois Primary Health Care Association, said the agency under Eagleson has elevated diversity, equity and inclusion in its mission, which in turn has improved health outcomes. He also praised the department’s handling of the healthcare system through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Illinois is stronger and healthier because of her leadership,” Idowu said.

Before becoming director, Eagleson was the state’s longest-serving Medicaid director, serving from 2007 to 2014. She also was executive director of the University of Illinois System Office of Medicaid Innovation.

Kim Foltz, division president at Aetna Medicaid, praised Eagleson’s work improving the Medicaid program and making it easier for members to access care.

“The program is now a national leader in addressing health equity, the social determinants of members’ health and building relationships with quality providers that are essential for the delivery of quality care to Illinoisans,” Foltz said.

Eagleson said in a statement she was honored to serve Illinoisans, especially the state’s Medicaid population.

“I am grateful to Gov. (JB) Pritzker for giving us the opportunity to create transformational change within the larger healthcare landscape in this state, especially for nursing home residents,” she said. “I will always treasure these 30 years spent serving the state of Illinois.”

Whitehorn has been in her current role since 2019. Along with helping to lead the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pritzker said she also spearheaded the Children’s Behavioral Health Transformation Initiative.

“Over the last four-and-a-half years, I’ve worked closely with the health and human service agencies and seen firsthand the results of interagency cooperation and coordination,” Whitehorn said. “I’m honored to continue this work at HFS to increase access to affordable and equitable healthcare and support the millions of Illinoisans who rely on our Medicaid system every day.”

The change of leadership at HFS was one of several announced Wednesday by Pritzker, who also said Paula Basta will depart as director of the Department of Aging as will Marc Smith, director of the Department of Children and Family Services.

“Despite the excellent quality of the candidates who will fill their shoes, their full impact on state government can never truly be articulated or replicated, and I thank them for their years of service,” Pritzker said in a statement.

Pritzker said his administration will conduct a national search to find replacements for Basta and Smith.

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