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CoxHealth CEO addresses changing health care field

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Change is the name of the game for Steve Edwards.

CoxHealth's fifth CEO since 1965 is embracing the changing nature of health care, and in his first three weeks in the hospital's top position, the longtime health supporter has kept that mindset at the forefront.

Edwards, the first guest for Springfield Business Journal's 2012 12 People You Need to Know breakfast series, was interviewed this morning at Hilton Garden Inn by SBJ Editor Eric Olson in front of a crowd of roughly 160.

With the health system facing a tighter budget - $18 million in Medicaid cuts last year and another $12 million in Medicare cuts coming this year - Edwards said he feels a "great sense of urgency" to push CoxHealth forward.

"I think we're on the verge of a renaissance in technology - the human genome project, all kinds of artificial technology that we're developing," he said. "I believe we'll see more changes in my children's lifetimes in health care than we'll see in all those years preceding them in history - innovations, patents, new medications, etc.

"We've got that coming at us, yet at the same time, there's not enough money."

Edwards said he believes private enterprise and utilizing the knowledge of health-minded individuals are the best options to bridge the increasing gap.

"I'll take the intelligence of our organization over our federal government any day," he said, drawing applause from the crowd.

In his first days as CoxHealth's president and CEO, Edwards has taken steps to back his philosophies.

His first order of business was to slim down the management team at CoxHealth, eliminating the chief operating officer position - which he formerly held - and streamlining several other administrative functions.

"If we lean our troops at the top level, we think there's no choice but to be more agile," Edwards said. "It's always unsettling to see change, but I think people have embraced them pretty well."

He also would like to see CoxHealth take charge in the Springfield community to fight childhood obesity and other issues associated with unhealthy lifestyles. Though emergency room visits make up a significant portion of current business, Edwards is looking down the road as preventative care becomes increasingly important and relevant.

"We're not worried about going out of business for helping cure diseases," he said. "More can be done. More should be done."
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