Meet the New President of Children's Hospital

by Shelli Dankoff
OSF Saint Francis Medical Center/Children’s Hospital of Illinois

Children’s Hospital of Illinois sees the first female president in its 20-plus year history.

It’s been six months since Children’s Hospital of Illinois welcomed a new president. Margaret Gustafson became the first woman to lead the institution since it became a hospital-within-a-hospital at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in 1990.

Before she could even arrange the furniture in her new office, Gustafson experienced Children’s Hospital’s services as a parent when her 17-year-old son, Matthew, suffered a head injury during a summer league basketball game and was brought by Life Flight to Peoria from Sterling for treatment. The decision was made to admit Matthew to the adult neurological inpatient unit, but his follow-up care was through the pediatric neuro team.

“It was a little scary until we found out exactly what his condition was,” recalls Gustafson. “But I had just spent months interviewing with and meeting staff across all areas of Children’s Hospital and OSF Saint Francis, and I knew he was going to get the best care possible—and he did. Matthew recovered and is doing well.”

Gustafson’s unusual welcome to Children’s Hospital reinforced what she already knew. Prior to arriving here in June, she served as chief executive officer at Kewanee Hospital for 11 years and knew of Children’s Hospital’s reputation. Under her tenure, she led Kewanee Hospital to attain Critical Access Hospital status and oversaw the financing and construction of a full-replacement hospital facility in 2008.

With 21 years of experience in hospital administration, Gustafson has managed a broad range of healthcare issues, from business outreach and managed care contracting to practice management to compliance and safety to marketing and foundation planning.

The learning curve has been brisk since her arrival. “When you think of Children’s Hospital, everybody automatically thinks about the inpatient services—the neonatal intensive care unit, the pediatric critical care units, the congenital heart center—but we are so much more than that. We have outpatient clinics, we work closely with our Medical Group offices, and we have affiliations that reach far outside the immediate Tri-County Area.”

In fact, Children’s Hospital of Illinois, with 124 beds, serves a 34-county area. “The most important thing for me is to see to it that we provide the best care possible for all children. We have a fantastic team of physicians, nurses and support staff that rivals the best children’s hospitals in the country. We currently have over 110 subspecialty physicians. That means a child—and his or her family—can get the best medical care right here in central Illinois without having to travel to a larger city.”

But Gustafson also thinks it’s important to remember your roots as an organization, guidance that she sees as invaluable. “The Sisters laid the foundation more than 135 years ago and provide the daily inspiration to do what’s best for children. Their earliest days were spent caring for children in orphanages. I can’t think of a more inspirational place to work.”

It’s comforting support that Gustafson takes on her daily drives to and from Kewanee, where she and her husband, Craig, and their three children live, surrounded by extended family and friends. Despite her increasing role as a woman of influence within the central Illinois medical community, she always takes time to remember the important things in life—especially her family.

“Even though I work nearly an hour away from home, my husband and I make sure one of us is at every activity. The kids are at an age when they are busy, but it is important for them to know we are there for them—plus I know these days won’t last forever, and before we know it, they will be grown.” And that is a perspective that will continue to lead Children’s Hospital of Illinois down a path that provides the best care possible for years to come. iBi

Shelli Dankoff is a senior media relations specialist at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of Illinois.