East Peoria Times-Courier - East Peoria, IL
  • Former NFL player speaks at Chamber dinner

  • It may not have been the speech people were expecting.

    Jim Covert, who was an offensive tackle for the Chicago Bears from 1983-1990, spoke just as much about health care as he did the glory days of his football career.
    Covert was born in Conway, Penn.
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  • It may not have been the speech people were expecting. Jim Covert, who was an offensive tackle for the Chicago Bears from 1983-1990, spoke just as much about health care as he did the glory days of his football career. Covert was born in Conway, Penn. He said growing up, the steel mill was very prevalent in his youth. His grandfather, father, brother, uncles and brothers-in-law all worked at the mill. “I remember when I was a kid when they would pour slag down a hill into the river, you could read a book at midnight,” Covert said. Growing up in the blue collar town, Covert said he learned about hard work and values. Even though Covert said it was a great place to grow up, he said there were three options for a future. “There was the mill, the military or getting a football scholarship unless you just wanted to stay there,” Covert said. “My dad took me into the mill in July when I was about 10 years old. It was about 150 degrees in there. He said, 'Son, you never want to come in here.'” Covert took his father's advice. Plus, he had a lot of dreams and aspirations. “I always wanted to be a football player. I remember laying on my bedroom floor looking at the Pittsburgh Steelers roster and I wanted to play next to Joe Greene,” Covert said. Covert didn't get to play with Greene, but he did get to play with the Chicago Bears during their notorious 1985 Superbowl championship game. Before Covert made the team, he played for the University of Pittsburgh where he was named an All-American. “When the draft came around, I thought I'd go pretty high, but I didn't know where,” Covert said. Because his family did not have cable TV, Covert said he didn't know he had been drafted by the Bears until they were on pick 10. The only player he knew on the team was Walter Payton, who Covert said was a huge practical joker. “He used to do things like throw an M80 down in the locker room. I was the recipient of one of those,” Covert said. Another practical joke Payton did was to dip doughnuts in the paraffin wax machine the players used for their banged up hands. Payton would put the waxed doughnuts back in the box and watch the coaches take a bite out of them. Covert did not say whether Mike Ditka was one of the coaches to fall victim to Payton's pranks. Covert had other things to say about Ditka. Ditka told the team that other great teams during that time believed they were going to win. “You guys don't,” Ditka told them. “(Ditka) said something that stuck with me. He said, 'You got to dream and you got to dream big. You got to dream that we are going to go to the Super Bowl. You've got to work for it and you've got to believe in it.'” Covert said he thinks that was the turning point for the Bears. “I had a great career,” he said, adding that football was a large part of his life emotionally, but it was short chronologically. Covert knew he needed a Plan B; he had an interest in the medical field. He began working at Baxter Heath Care in 1991. He said the experience was very humbling because he went from a high-paid job in the NFL dining with CEOs to a low-paying job sitting in a cubicle. But, Covert applied those same principles he learned growing up in Pittsburgh to his new career. He moved his family three times to accommodate his job. “It's all about how much elbow grease you want to put in to be successful,” Covert said. Covert is now the President and CEO of The Institute for Transfusion Medicine. Covert told a friend that he got to where he is now in his career due to a 20 year overnight success. In the health care field, Covert said it is an exciting time. He pays close attention to health care reform. In the United States, Covert said $2.7 trillion is spent on health care. “That tells you we gotta be doing something wrong,” he said. “As far as life expectancy, we rank 50th in the world,” he added. “There's got to be a better way.” Covert quoted some statistics he has read over the years including that 20 percent of all health care costs are waste. There are many challenges in the health care industry, Covert said. Regarding Medicaid and Medicare, he said, “I think it's going to continue to decline. It's going to be a tremendous burden on hospitals.” He predicts that over the next 10 years, 1,000 hospitals will close. Fundamentally, he said hospitals need to change the way they do business. Change should come, Covert said, by having an accountable care organization driven by physicians and hospitals that is value based. “Do it right the first time. If you have to go back to the hospital for the same things, the hospital would be penalized,” he said. Hospitals, Covert said, are going to have to form alliances. “The ones that are looking at this now are going to be ahead of the curve and be successful,” he said.
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