A Valparaiso University law degree launched a career journey that led Chris McQuillin from courtrooms to correctional facilities as a prosecutor, private attorney and law enforcement official.
But, to paraphrase the rousing old Scottish tune “We’re No Awa’ Tae Bide Awa’” he plays on his bagpipes, McQuillin was not away to stay away from his alma mater.
Three decades after earning his Juris Doctor, he returned to Valpo as an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Graduate Studies. He has taught campus-based and 100% online courses such as Health Care Law, Legal Issues and Compliance in Health Care, Forensic Law, and Health Care Leadership, including as part of the Master of Science in Healthcare Administration program.
“I am proud to be a member of the Valparaiso University faculty,” McQuillin said. “My experience as a student, even though over 35 years ago, showed me dedicated individuals interested in education and working with students.
“I am now starting my sixth year at Valparaiso University and I still see that same dedication in my faculty and staff co-workers that I saw as a young student.”
The transformative power of education was a truth instilled early in this son and grandson of public servants.
“Learning was very important in my family when I was growing up, and still is to this day. Every day, my dad told us to ‘learn all you can, because whatever you learn, no one can ever take that away from you,’” McQuillin said.
Following law school, McQuillin served as a state prosecutor and then founded his own law firm in Valparaiso, Ind., a city of 33,000 about 15 miles from the southern shore of Lake Michigan. He returned to the public sector 10 years later, eventually joining the Lake County (Indiana) Sheriff’s Department in administration. As compliance officer for the 1,040-bed county jail, he focused on the delivery of medical and mental health services, and the development and implementation of an electronic medical records system.
In 2013, McQuillin joined the faculty at Valpo, ranked a top regional university in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report, Forbes and The Princeton Review.
“I believe that everything I have done up to this point, and will continue to do, helps me to be a better educator for my students,” he said.
We spoke with McQuillin about the role of compliance and legal issues in healthcare, his tips for student success in the online classroom and his experiences playing the bagpipes at the U.S. Capitol.
Q. Can you tell us about your background and how you developed an interest in healthcare-related issues such as leadership, compliance and forensic law?
My education is in economics and law. As an attorney, I worked for the LaPorte, Porter and Lake County (Indiana) Prosecuting Attorneys Offices. I represented the citizens of Indiana in court proceedings, including grand juries and jury trials. I also spent 10 years in private practice where I represented individuals charged with crimes in state and federal courts. While many of these cases were resolved by plea agreements, I also represented my clients in jury trials. It was during this time that I studied and developed an interest in forensic law.
I then began my career in administration with the Lake County Sheriff’s Department and, at that time, I directed my attention to administration, leadership, and compliance issues as they related to my daily duties. My duties in compliance included state and federal legal issues, as well as working with the County Jail Medical Unit to secure its reaccreditation with the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice. I also worked with the county commissioners on bid packages and analysis of returned bids and requests for proposal, as well as working with vendors to verify their compliance with contracts.
Q. Can you tell us about the implementation of an electronic medical records system for Lake County’s 1,040-bed jail? Are there lessons you share with students in Valpo’s MS in Healthcare Administration program?
The process to implement the electronic medical records (EMR) system was a learning experience for us all. At the time, there were very few EMR systems that existed solely for correctional facilities. I assisted in drafting the request for proposal (RFP) and worked with various vendors as they completed surveys to respond to the RFP. Once the county commissioners approved a vendor, I worked with that vendor to upgrade and add to our computer hardware for the use of the EMR. I also worked with the vendor to provide training for the entire medical staff in the use of the new system. There were issues with interfacing between the Jail Records Management System and the EMR, and I facilitated communication between those two entities to resolve those issues.
I discuss this process in detail in Legal Issues and Compliance in Health Care. The main lesson to be learned is to not to try to reinvent the wheel. Find someone who has done it before you and get information from them. You can adapt it to what you need, but you will have a starting point.
Q. How is widespread adoption of EMR systems – and the growing influence of healthcare informatics – transforming the role of healthcare administrators?
Once the EMR is operational, the healthcare administrator’s ability to track quality control should become easier because they will be able to track patient services. Quality control and the delivery of services to patients are key issues for the future.
Q. Tell us about your experience teaching in an online environment. How does your professional experience impact your classroom instruction?
I have been teaching college courses online for approximately 11 years, in addition to my ground-based classroom duties. My goal for online courses is to make the students feel that they are in a regular classroom setting. This includes being available to talk on the phone, FaceTime or WebEx sessions. I make it a point to use my experiences in the classroom to supplement the materials to assist student learning. I believe that learning about practical experiences enhances the learning process for the student.
Q. What do you consider the most important factors in student success in the online classroom?
The single most important factor in student success in online classrooms is to keep up with the materials and the assignments. It is very easy to put off reading the materials and completing assignments on time. Once a student falls behind, it can be very difficult to catch up. When I see this happening, I contact the student to see if there is anything that I can do to assist. I understand that “life happens” during a course, and I do the best I can to work with students. Another suggestion for online class success is to ask questions if you don’t understand the materials or the assignments. My role as an online instructor is no different than being in the classroom at Valparaiso University. I make myself available to students for one-on-one discussions if needed.
Q. Can you discuss the legal landscape in the healthcare system? What are the most important compliance issues facing healthcare administrators?
The legal landscape in healthcare is a moving target currently. Administrators need to keep current on changes in the law so that they can properly instruct their staff. There are several important compliance issues facing administrators but following appropriate federal mandates for Medicaid and Medicare are very important. This also includes working with private health insurance companies to make certain that accurate claims are filed to prevent fraud issues. Facility accreditation is important, as is the development of accurate job descriptions for employees. Continuing education for the administrator and the staff is also important. There are many other issues, but these seem to be paramount.
Q. Students in Valpo’s online Healthcare Administration program often must balance educational pursuits with professional duties and family responsibilities. You’ve presented seminars on management skills and workplace stress. What tips would you offer students for managing their workload?
Students are juggling home, work and school all at the same time. The thing that works for me is to establish a schedule for yourself and do the best you can to follow it. This is important in the online program and the ground-based program. As I mentioned above, falling behind is the quickest way to not succeed in the program. Also, as I mentioned above, don’t be afraid to talk with your instructor about what is going on. I’ve had students on active duty in the military in the Middle East tell me that they would be offline for a day or two “because they had something to do.” The instructor will appreciate the good communication and will work with students as best they can.
Q. As compliance officer with the sheriff’s department you drafted RFPs, reviewed contracts, and participated in audit and accreditation processes. How important are communication skills in these endeavors?
Good written and verbal communication skills are essential for success. Obviously, you will want to make certain that your process includes attorneys or legal departments to make certain that the information you are submitting for an RFP, contract or audit is correct. As a compliance officer, I worked directly with the department attorney and the county attorney.
Q. What attracted you to a career in law and public safety?
My family has been involved in public service for almost 100 years. My grandfather was a career fireman and my father a career police officer. Apparently, their service rubbed off on me.
Q. What aspect of your work gives you the greatest satisfaction?
I have a passion for working with students. It’s common knowledge, I believe, that my classes never end when they are supposed to end because the students and I get into discussions on other topics. My wife recognizes that I’ve had a good class when I get home. She knows I love working with students and that they invigorate me.
Q. How has education shaped your career path?
My grandfather, as a retired fireman, took a college course in Introductory Spanish in the mid-1970s when he was about 75 because he wanted to learn. My father went to school under the *GI Bill® and obtained his Associate’s in Criminal Justice degree while I was in high school. These were my examples on the value of education.
Q. You play the bagpipes at campus events and with the Lake County Sheriff’s Pipes and Drums Band. When and how did you begin playing the pipes? Do you have a favorite tune?
I have been playing the bagpipes for about 15 years. The sheriff’s department had a small band with about nine members at that time, including a couple of officers who worked for me. They knew I wanted to join and kept harassing me until I finally relented and came to a practice. Once I attended that first practice, I was hooked. Our band now has about 20 members and we have twice been chosen to be the host band at National Police Week ceremonies in Washington, D.C. These events are held every May.
I love playing with my fellow band members. We are the only police pipe band in Indiana and have been called on many times to play at funerals for officers who made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their life in the line of duty. Over the past 15 years there have been too many to recall, unfortunately. As a result, I would say my least favorite tune is “Amazing Grace” because it’s played at the graveside while the flag is being folded.
There are happy tunes, though. “Scotland the Brave,” “Will Ye No Come Back Again” (also referred to as “Gunga Din” because it’s played in the movie), “Balmoral,” “We’re No Awa’ Tae Bide Awa’” and some Irish tunes like “Wearing of the Green” are favorites.
The band recorded a CD in 2009. Being in the studio was probably one of the most intense experiences in my bagpipe playing.
*GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by the VA is available at the official U.S. government website at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.