Carla Gazes – University of Chicago Medical Center
When Carla Gazes became a licensed foster parent in 2012, she knew that meant she could be entrusted with a child from anywhere in the state of Illinois. What she didn’t expect was to receive a child from her own workplace.
Gazes is a senior associate general counsel at the University of Chicago Medical Center. And as it happened, the infant the state matched her with came from her employer’s neonatal intensive care unit.
“By chance, complete chance,” Gazes marvels now, more than 10 years later. “He was discharged to our care, and he was in our home for four-and-a-half years. It was a life-changing experience, but I wouldn’t trade our time with him for anything.”
Gazes’ foster son was then reunited with his biological dad; she and her family had maintained a relationship with the boy’s father throughout the fostering process.
That process didn’t just make Gazes a better mom to her two biological children, one who’s now in college and the other finishing high school, about whom she says, “I couldn’t be luckier. There are so many reasons I’m proud.” It also made her a better lawyer, she says.
It’s one thing to carry a pager around—as all the attorneys on her team take turns doing—to field legal questions from doctors. It’s another thing to grapple firsthand with the issues that accompany a ward of the state because he’s your foster child.
Those insights have never left Gazes, even though her little charge eventually did.
“He will always have a part of my heart,” Gazes says.
Confronting a South Side killer
Now 20 years into her role at UCMC, Gazes is passionate about equity of care. And nothing better exemplifies that than her efforts to help open a dedicated cancer hospital on the medical center’s South Side campus.
Research published in the peer-reviewed journal Medical Care Research and Review has shown that patients see better outcomes when they attend a dedicated cancer facility for treatment. And a UCMC Community Health Needs Assessment conducted last year found that South Side residents generally show “significantly higher rates” of some cancers. It also found that residents of Englewood, on the South Side, had a lower life expectancy than residents of Streeterville, a northern downtown neighborhood which includes the Magnificent Mile—by roughly 30 years.
“The prognosis for many cancers remains poor, even though there have been so many remarkable advances in cancer detection,” Gazes says. “There’s an imbalance of resources.”
Because Illinois is among the states that regulate what capital expenditures hospitals can pursue, Gazes had to seek permission from the Illinois Department of Public Health—and its Health Facilities and Services Review Board—to add the cancer center, an $815 million, 575,000-square-foot project. Last year, she helped secure preliminary approval from the state to begin the design and development phases. She and her colleagues have spent the past year reviewing architectural designs and holding town halls and community meetings to solicit residents’ input.
But the construction of the cancer center has yet to get state approval. Gazes says she and her team have now submitted the full application and hope to see it approved this June. When completed, the hospital will have 80 inpatient beds, 90 outpatient exam rooms, an urgent care clinic for immunocompromised patients, infusion therapy rooms, a breast cancer center, a cancer imaging suite and complementary therapies for stress reduction and wellness.
“Part of my job is to convey the importance of this project before the review board and explain why the community and patients will be better off,” Gazes says. “I also provide advice to UCMC’s planning, design and construction team about state regulations and how design and utilization standards have to be carried out.”
Making a change in trauma outcomes
Gazes wound up at UCMC through a law school clerkship that matched her with the general counsel, but she has stayed at the medical center for two decades because she hoped to work in a place where she could make a positive change in society.
Over the years, Gazes has guided some of UCMC’s largest capital expansion projects. Among her most satisfying contributions thus far was the Level 1 adult trauma center she helped bring to campus. The South Side had been without a full-fledged trauma center for 30 years when UCMC opened the new center within its adult emergency department on May 1, 2018. (The medical center had been running a Level 1 pediatric trauma center since 1990.)
“I think that’s where I’ve seen the biggest change,” Gazes says. “That was a very big deal, to bring trauma care back to the South Side.”
The trauma center is now the second busiest in the city. In the first four years after it opened, it saw 13,000 adult trauma cases. And Gazes says that number is only increasing as the frequency of trauma injuries rises across the city.
“It’s an intense place,” says Gazes, who has visited the trauma center many times since it opened. “Trauma care is unique for its immediacy and the precision with which it deploys highly synchronized, resource-intensive and expert care.”
Today, Gazes’ portfolio ranges from HIPAA privacy and security matters, big data regulation, human subject research, property tax exemptions and what she calls “patient-facing issues”—informed consent matters, mental health concerns and guardianship questions, for example.
“I’m consistently reminded that some of the decisions I make or the advice that I give has consequences for individual patients and for our physicians and nurses,” she says. “It puts a very human face on the fact that I work in a hospital.”
Putting patients first
A graduate of Northwestern University, where she earned her B.A. in 1997, and Loyola University Chicago, where she earned her J.D. in 2001, Gazes says she was told as a law clerk that she’d never be hired at the medical center straight out of law school. But she persevered and worked her way up from law clerk to staff attorney to assistant general counsel to associate general counsel to her current role.
She had taken a health law concentration at Loyola, so UCMC was an ideal place for her. Gazes says she’s often found that the best legal advice emerges from a collaborative approach that considers the context.
“Legal advice in the setting of the hospital has to be practical and be capable of being implemented without impeding patient care,” Gazes says. “Patients come first, and time matters.”
So, whether she’s serving as UCMC’s lead privacy and security attorney, helping to forge the South Side Healthy Community Organization alliance—a 13-member partnership with community hospitals and health clinics—or supporting her colleagues in launching a joint venture with Advent Midwest Health, Gazes is always thinking about the next practical step in making her community healthier.
“UCMC wants to rectify what we view as significant health disparities and disparities of resources on the South Side,” she says. “And that shows up in my work in many important ways.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Summer I 2023 Edition here.
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