In spite of having spent a large portion of his career involved in healthcare, Mike LaMont didn’t see his professional life heading that way when he got out of school. “My grandfather owned an ambulance business,” he says, “my dad was an ambulance driver, and my mom was a medical transcriptionist. My younger brother is a cardiac technician, but I didn’t have any interest in working in healthcare initially.”
Currently the vice president of facilities management for Rush University Medical Center, LaMont says he started off most captivated by design. “I enrolled in an engineering program at the University of Illinois at Chicago [UIC],” LaMont recalls, “because I was interested in construction but more in how buildings are designed as opposed to actually built. I wanted to get the technical background to do that, so I got a bachelor’s of science in structural engineering.”
For seven years, LaMont designed power plant structures, until a downturn in the economy forced him to look for new work. Luckily, one was quick to arrive in the form of project management at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. “There was a new program starting at O’Hare to modernize and expand the airport,” LaMont explains, “That was my first introduction to moving out of actually designing and into managing separate projects and the people who are actually doing the design.”
Working For The City
LaMont found that he liked project management, and his detour into transit continued further when an opportunity arose within the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).
“Working at the CTA was similar to the airport in that you had different companies designing different projects and you were coordinating and integrating the work of multiple different contractors,” LaMont says. “Except this time it was the rail system and not the airport.”
Ultimately, however, LaMont didn’t want to finish up his career in transit, so he pivoted again, this time working for John Stroger, president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. “My main project for the county was overseeing and directing the work at the new county hospital,” he recalls. “So that was quite a pivot. I hadn’t been in healthcare design at all, but I had a good sense of what it takes—to get a project going and work with design teams and then get contractors involved—from my previous positions.
However, working for the county meant learning to deal with red tape—and a lot of it at that. “Dealing with that,” LaMont says, “taught me a lot about just remaining cool and also about really preparing yourself prior to a board meeting because you never know what’s going to be leveled at you. Everyone who wants to be in management at a big program should have some government experience if they can; it’s a good way to learn process and protocol.”
The Harrison Street Collection
After debating the merits of demolishing the Old Cook County Courthouse live on television and landing his photo in the pages of Ebony magazine next to his boss, the late John Stroger, LaMont decided to continue his path into healthcare and made the switch to working with Rush.
“I really liked healthcare,” he says. “From a technology point of view, it’s very challenging. You get to interact with people a lot. Just being in the hospital, you see people coming and going, and I thought that would be worthwhile—I’d feel good about working in a hospital and managing and building facilities and maintaining them properly.”
Currently, Rush is facilitating the construction of a new $400 million, 400,000-square-foot outpatient-care building located on Harrison Street, which LaMont says is designed to be easier for patients to navigate and will facilitate Rush’s role in community development. “At Rush, we’re trying to involve the community more,” he says. “We’re very conscious of our role on the west side of Chicago to be a catalyst for community development, so we’ll have programs that will try to get young people involved in construction so that there are jobs and careers available to them long term. We call that our anchor mission, where we’re trying to help revitalize the west side of the city.”
The new outpatient building and the tower it will eventually connect to are just the latest projects in what LaMont calls the Harrison Street Collection. “When I was at UIC as an undergrad,” he says, “I helped build a 20-by-20-foot concrete teepee structure on Harrison with the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Student Chapter. The county hospital was located on Harrison, and I built a daycare center with Rush and a courthouse there as well. I’ve got a whole string of projects on Harrison Street; I started my career there, and it’s funny to think I’ll probably finish it up there, too.”
The Chicago Flood
During LaMont’s tenure as CTA’s vice president of design and construction, he helped get the trains running after a massive breach of the Chicago River that came to be known as the Chicago Flood.
“When I first went out and saw the flooding,” he says, “I think it was an hour or so after it happened. The Chicago Fire Department was over by the tunnel where the flooding had started, trying to stuff mattresses in a hole no one knew the exact location of. Buildings started filling up with water, our underground train operations were halted, businesses were sending people home, and the Army Corps of Engineers was eventually brought in. Gradually we got our arms around the problem and the water was pumped out, but it took three weeks before we could even send test trains through the transit tunnels again.”
Photo: Bill Richert