Sarah Pacini, 39
Vice president of risk management and insurance Advocate Health Care, Downers Grove, Ill.
Sarah Pacini began her healthcare career as a nurse, and it fit well with her upbringing.
She grew up on a farm with her family in Lowell, Ind. Pacini developed an affinity for the outdoors and the cows, chickens and ducks that roamed around. She preferred to care for animals and neighbors instead of watching TV, which her family didn’t have.
“I’m not a person you’d want to play Trivial Pursuit with,” Pacini said, laughing.
After working for a couple years as an emergency department nurse, she began to think more broadly about the healthcare delivery system. Pacini became a nurse consultant for a medical malpractice firm, enjoying the work of poring through medical records, finding if the highest standards of care had been met. And then it hit her. “I wanted to be a nurse-attorney,” Pacini said. After receiving a law degree from DePaul University College of Law, Chicago, she set her sights on melding her clinician training with a future of educating hospital staff about pertinent regulatory, liability and quality issues.
Pacini serves as vice president of risk management and insurance at Advocate Health Care, the largest system in Illinois. She has been with Advocate for more than a decade, helping to instill a culture that says putting patients first will result in better care and fewer legal risks.
And it’s paid off so far. Since Pacini started at Advocate, the number of medical liability lawsuits and the average payments of lawsuits have dropped by 50%.
For Dr. Lee Sacks, Advocate’s chief medical officer and Pacini’s direct supervisor, Pacini’s success has been grounded in her ability to communicate the importance of reducing legal risk and how it’s linked with patient safety and cost-effective care. Pacini formed Advocate’s risk purchasing group, which gives physicians the ability to negotiate lower medical liability premiums.
“The glue behind all of this is building personal relationships,” Sacks said. “She’s built relationships inside the organization so there’s better communication and trust, and so risk is not looked upon as the gotcha police.”
Pacini believes her impact within Advocate is augmented by her clinical credentials. “With the dual background, sometimes it’s easier to deliver a message,” she said.
FIRST JOB: Cake decorator at a local bakery. “I had taken the Wilton cake decorating course and enjoyed the opportunity to be creative.” FAVORITE FOOD: Lou Malnati’s deep-dish mushroom and pepperoni pizza, well done. GO-TO HOBBIES: Golf and stained glass. “These are best done separately, of course.”