The Chan File


  • Vice president, facilities integration, Advocate Aurora Health, Milwaukee
  • Administrator/vice president, facilities services, Advocate Health Care, Downers Grove, Ill.
  • Director of engineering, Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, Chicago


  • 2017 American Society for Health Care Engineering President’s Award
  • Adjunct faculty, American Society for Health Care Engineering
  • Adjunct faculty, Joint Commission Resources
  • Certified Health Care Facilities Manager
  • Certified Health Care Constructor
  • Senior status, American Society for Health Care Engineering
  • Certified member – American Association of Snowboard Instructors
  • Certified member – Professional Ski Instructors of America

York Chan, CHFM, CHC, SASHE, vice president, facilities integration, Advocate Aurora Health, Milwaukee, received the 2019 Crystal Eagle Leadership Award from the American Society for Health Care Engineering. This month, he reflects on the field and the impact he hopes his nearly 40-year career will leave behind.

How were you able to maneuver from an HVAC tech to where you are now?

In the early stages of my career, technical skills carried me. When something in the hospital broke, I would fix it, hire someone to fix it or buy a new one. Once I moved into a leadership role, I had to learn people management skills, which is quite different. Early on, I discovered that I couldn’t do everything by myself and had to rely on others. Learning to listen, motivate and applaud others became my focus. It was Casey Stengel, baseball icon, who said, “Managing is getting paid for home runs someone else hits.”

George Mills, former director of engineering at The Joint Commission, has had a huge impact on my career. In 2005, he asked me to teach the Environment of Care Base Camp program for Joint Commission Resources (JCR). It gave me a lot of credibility to the field. George taught me that you must be knowledgeable and confident in the subject matter when you are teaching. He also encouraged me to get involved with the American Society for Health Care Engineering (ASHE) on a national level. I went on to serve two terms on the ASHE board as well as several board roles in HESNI, the Healthcare Engineering Society of Northern Illinois.

In your career span, what are some of the highlights or passion projects you’ve been able to advance?

I was the director of facilities at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in downtown Chicago. Over the course of 30 years, the 110-year-old hospital achieved an ENERGY STAR rating of 99, and it’s currently one of the most energy-efficient hospitals in the country. Energy utilization optimization in any organization cannot be achieved by one individual. The culture of energy efficiency must be adopted by the entire organization. Some of the best ideas have come from front-line staff in facilities, nursing and other departments who work in the environment on a day-to-day basis. I knew that I had succeeded when I received a call one day from a doctor telling me that I had gone overboard with this energy-saving thing! He elaborated that the lights went off on him in a room, and it was due to the motion detectors not sensing movement. 

How did you begin teaching, and what are some of the educational programs you are a part of today?

In 2005, I was asked to fill in for a JCR faculty member while he went on medical leave. I have been teaching ever since. At JCR, I taught the Environment of Care Base Camp and Exploring the Life Safety Chapter courses. I also taught a lot of custom programs for various health care organizations, the Veteran’s Administration and Department of Defense hospitals. 

In 2013, I transitioned to become faculty for ASHE. This gave me an opportunity to teach other topics besides accreditation. I currently teach ASHE’s Health Care Construction Workshop, Certified Health Care Constructor Exam Review Program, Managing Accreditation in the Physical Environment and Health Care Facility Management courses.

Why is it important for you to give back to the health care facility management field?

There are a lot of misconceptions on what we do in the health care facilities management field. Everyone thinks we sit around simply waiting for something to break in the building, and then we fix it. What they don’t know is what it takes to create a physical environment that is conducive to delivering good clinical outcomes. 

How we maintain the facility — from proper air exchanges in the operating rooms to maintaining air pressure differentials in critical spaces — all contribute to positive clinical outcomes to the patients we serve. A simple thing such as removing a ceiling tile can be deadly to an immune-compromised patient if the proper infection prevention protocols are not followed.

There are a lot of younger people coming into our profession. I want to be able to share my experiences with them to help them succeed. That is the reason why I continue to teach. I take pride in the fact that several of my summer college interns have gone on to become health care facility managers. Sharing ideas and networking with your peers makes it easier to overcome the hurdles that health care facility managers face every day.

What will your involvement in the field look like post-retirement?

I have been checking things off my bucket list over the past couple of years. I helicopter skied off four glaciers in British Columbia, cross-country skied through Yellowstone by myself for three days, shot the rapids on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon for 120 miles in a 16-foot wooden boat, and rode a bicycle through Europe from Germany to Hungary. I want to continue to do these activities while I am still healthy and capable. That is why I am retiring from Advocate Aurora Health at the end of 2019. As you can see, my passion is in snow sports. I have been a certified snowboard and ski instructor for 44 years and still teach for a resort in Wisconsin. Upon my retirement from health care facility management at the end of 2019, I am going to live in Utah and work as a ski guide, leading people to the fresh powder.

I will also continue to teach for ASHE for at least a couple of years. To be relevant, I must stay on top of all the changes in our field. Building and fire codes, accreditation standards, and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rules are evolving daily. After a couple of years out of the field, it will be time to pass the torch to younger faculty members. When it’s all said and done, I am looking forward to starting on the next venture in life as a full-time ski bum.

What advice do you have for others who would like to transition from the boiler room to the board room?

Credibility is most important. You can speak “nuts and bolts” with front-line staff, but senior leadership in the C-suite don’t always need to hear technical jargon. They prefer to hear about “risk management,” “return on investment” and “net present value.”

There are a few things that a health care facility manager must have to be successful. The first is having a technical background. You need to know the difference between a chiller and a boiler. Communication skills are also a major requirement. You need to be able to communicate downward to staff as well as upward to senior leadership. Being organized will help you navigate everything that is thrown at you daily. Managing construction projects, accreditation surveys and responding to system failures are just a few of the things that are thrown at us. Finally, be humble. Listen to input, and be open minded. Humility goes a long way in the workplace.

How does it feel to win the Crystal Eagle Leadership Award?

It was quite an honor to receive this prestigious award in front of all my peers at the 56th ASHE Annual Conference & Technical Exhibition. What was most meaningful to me were the numerous members who came up to me to offer words of congratulations and thanks. Several stated that they had attended one of my classes years ago and how it has impacted them and helped them over the course of their careers. It feels good to know I made a difference!