As hospitals across the country prepare to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which takes full effect in January 2014, the MUSC Medical Center in Charleston has hired Dr. Pat Cawley to take the helm.

Cawley has been named the new CEO of the medical center and vice president of clinical operations at the Medical University of South Carolina.

In his new role, Cawley will answer to the board of trustees and MUSC President Ray Greenberg for the operation and success of the hospital.

“The really big thing we’re working on right now is getting set for health care reform,” Cawley said.

Improving quality outcomes, decreasing medical complications and ensuring patient satisfaction — all tenets of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — are part of Cawley’s new job description.

“The other big thing for health care reform is there is going to be a lot less money coming to the hospitals,” Cawley said. “We’re learning to deal with that.”

Under the new law, the federal government will cease payments previously given to hospitals for treating uninsured patients. In return, the new law will allow more residents to qualify for Medicaid. Those extra Medicaid costs will be paid for with federal dollars for three years, after which states will be required to pick up 10 percent of the costs. A 2012 Supreme Court ruling determined states could opt to decline the extra Medicaid coverage — a choice Gov. Nikki Haley and some state lawmakers have vowed South Carolina will make.

“We need to make (health care) less expensive and we need to have better outcomes. I would 100 percent agree with that,” Cawley said. “At the same time, it’s going to be very difficult to make that change if we do not expand Medicaid.”

Cawley has inspired the MUSC community with his leadership “during these challenging times in health care,” said Marilyn Schaffner, chief nursing office and administrator for clinical services at the hospital.

“He’s an extremely hard worker,” she said. “He is a real results-oriented person. He really has the ability to influence us and get us all involved in the decision-making process and move us forward.”

Cawley, who previously served the hospital as its chief medical officer, is replacing former vice president for clinical operations and MUSC medical center executive director, Dr. Stuart Smith, who retired in December.

Cawley teaches at MUSC and lives in Mount Pleasant with his family.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.