Michael Stocker, MD ’68, GME ’69, MPH
The City That Never Sleeps can rest a little easier knowing its public health care system is overseen by a Medical College of Wisconsin alumnus who never quits. After retiring from his 40-year career as a health care executive, health policy advisor and family practice physician, Michael Stocker, MD ’68, GME ’69, MPH, is tackling the responsibilities of Chairman of the Board of Directors of New York City’s Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC).
HHC was created by the state of New York in 1970 to oversee the largest public health care system for the most densely populated city in the country. It is a public benefit corporation serving New Yorkers in all five boroughs of the city through 11 acute care hospitals, four skilled nursing facilities, six large diagnostic and treatment centers and more than 80 community-based clinics.
Persistence, which Dr. Stocker claims wasn’t easy for him in his early years, is what he learned at Marquette Medical School and what prepared him for the challenges of his current position. “The ability to chip away at this mountain of stuff you have to learn was a good lesson,” he said.
Providing oversight for HHC when national health care reform is under debate, the threat of an H1N1 pandemic is looming and bio-terrorism is in the back of every emergency medical worker’s mind, is not a task most retired physicians would relish. Dr. Stocker, however, embraced the daunting responsibility.
“I’ve always liked working with people to solve problems,” he said. “When you have a challenge, and you’re working together, it’s exciting to figure out a way to respond and make things come out in a satisfactory way. It sounds corny, but it isn’t much more complicated than that.”
Nearly 450,000 of HHC’s patients are uninsured, and that’s what makes it a “public benefit” corporation. The book No One Was Ever Turned Away by Sandra Opdycke, which chronicles New York City hospitals through the 20th century, is told mainly through the history of Bellevue Hospital, an HHC facility that adapted to the needs of its New York City population to remain in service today.
“In a scenario where everyone has the same insurance, Health and Hospitals needs to be a system where people choose to go rather than a hospital where they have to go because they’re uninsured,” said Dr. Stocker when discussing national health care as a HHC challenge.
After medical school, residency and a stint in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, Dr. Stocker worked at Cook County Hospital in Chicago where he was program director of the family practice residency. He later became medical director at Anchor, a staff model HMO at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago.
In 1985, he fulfilled his ambition to live in New York City when he became regional medical director and, later, executive vice president and general manager for US Healthcare. Following that, he was president of CIGNA Health Plans before joining Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield as president and chief executive officer. While at Empire, Dr. Stocker oversaw the company’s successful conversion to a publicly traded company in 2002. When Empire’s parent company merged with WellPoint, Dr. Stocker remained as regional president and CEO, then consultant before retiring in 2007.
Dr. Stocker points to his experience with classmates at Marquette Medical School as an influence on his career: “They were enormously supportive. I learned huge amounts from them, particularly in the clinical years.” Specifically, he remembers great learning experiences with Professor of Medicine Jim Cerletty, MD, ’58, Fel ’64, while Dr. Stocker was an intern at Milwaukee County General Hospital.
“I was always nostalgic for the aura of the public hospital system,” Dr. Stocker said, referencing Milwaukee County General and Cook County hospitals. “So when I had the opportunity to go back to it, I did.”
Dr. Stocker lives in Manhattan with his wife, Louise, and son Luke. He is also the proud father of Molly Stocker and John Stocker, and has six grandchildren.
View the entire fall 2009 issue of Alumni News. (opens as a pdf)
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