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Health-care leader Sister Sheila Lyne to retire from Mercy Hospital

Sister SheilLyne President   CEO Mercy Hospital Medical Center Thursday December 6 2012. | Provided Photo

Sister Sheila Lyne, President & CEO of Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, Thursday, December 6, 2012. | Provided Photo

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Updated: January 8, 2013 6:27AM

Sister Sheila Lyne, a leader in Chicago’s private and public health-care arena for over 40 years, is retiring from the helm of Mercy Hospital & Medical Center.

Lyne will step down as president and CEO of Mercy — the city’s first hospital — as soon as her successor can be named, the hospital announced Thursday.

“I love to tell people my age. I’m 76 and a half. Don’t forget the half. That’s reason in and of itself to retire,” the wispy nun with searing eyes said Thursday afternoon in her spacious offices at the 160-year-old institution at 2525 S. Michigan.

“But really, I just feel it’s time. I feel I’ve just been really privileged to have been a part of Mercy Hospital and the Department of Health, privileged to be able to serve,” she said. “I feel I can continue to contribute, but not at the same level.”

Lyne, who joined the order of the Sisters of Mercy in 1953, served as the city’s public health commissioner from 1991-2000 — appointed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley, whose family has deep connections with the hospital.

The late Mayor Richard J. Daley and his wife, Eleanor, helped raise money to build the current hospital in the late 1960s. And the younger Mayor Daley and his siblings were born in an older building.

Looking over a storied career, Lyne thinks her most significant accomplishment — as well as largest regret — occurred during her tenure with city government.

Her regret — 485 deaths related to Chicago’s first extraordinary heat wave in 1995.

“It was one of the things we missed. A lot of people died unnecessarily because we didn’t recognize the difference when this first heat wave came, and it was something we all just couldn’t believe was happening,” she said. “We finally figured it out by the second heat wave, and of course there were fewer deaths, but I do regret that.”

Her career accomplishment — increasing resources to fight the battle against AIDS.

“When I came in, the impact was rising,” she said. “I remember the activists marching against the mayor and all that, and that program definitely needed money. It had $4 million in funding, which went up to $40 million while I was there, and we and the activists were able to come to understand each other and work together.”

Lyne, CEO at Mercy for a total of 27 years, retires only months after she was credited with securing survival of the long-struggling nonprofit hospital by negotiating a deal to bring it under the auspices of Michigan-based Trinity Health. One of the South Side’s last remaining trauma centers, Mercy had struggled to stay afloat and continue to serve its surrounding neighborhoods’ predominantly poor and indigent population.

“Sister Sheila is a determined and visionary leader, and her influence at Trinity Health has been broad and valuable — just as it has been for decades at Mercy,” Trinity Health President and CEO Joseph Swedish said. “She has won the admiration of countless supporters through her heartfelt and tireless drive to serve and her unwavering concern for people who are sick, poor or vulnerable.”

Proud to trumpet that she is South Side born and raised, Lyne joined Mercy in 1970, after earning a psychiatric nursing degree, rising to president and CEO in 1976. Lyne, who holds an MBA from the University of Chicago, left the city after nine years to resume Mercy’s helm at a time it faced bankruptcy and was on the verge of closing.

The hospital has rebounded over the past 12 years.

“We as a board are most grateful to Sister Sheila for her diligent focus during challenging times and deliberate intent on affiliating Mercy with such a strong system as Trinity Health,” said John McCarthy, chairman of Mercy’s Board of Directors.

Many, however, attribute the rebound to clout. A 2009 Sun-Times investigation detailed how Daley created a special taxing district to benefit the hospital, outlining Mercy’s “family tree” of powerful friends working at or with the hospital.

But Lyne, who will become senior adviser to the Mercy Foundation upon retirement, looks only with satisfaction at the accomplishments.

“Looking back, the best way to describe it is ‘Wow!’ ” she said. “It’s been great.”

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