Michael J. Schwartz, president and chief executive of Alexian Brothers Medical Center in the Chicago area, was named president and chief executive of Prince William Health System, the board of trustees announced yesterday.

Schwartz will assume the position, which is being vacated by the retiring Robert Regan, on Jan. 17.

Schwartz is taking over less than a year after trustees voted to remain an independent, community-based hospital, following a public outcry over a proposal to sell Prince William Hospital to Universal Health Services Inc., a national health-care chain.

Schwartz said he looks forward to working with an independent, community-based hospital because "the commitment is particularly strong here."

That, he said, is one of the reasons he accepted the position.

"Today there's a renewed look at independence," Schwartz said in an interview yesterday morning. "Staying independent is not an easy task, but it's not insurmountable."

As the new CEO, Schwartz will be overlooking the health system's much-touted "renaissance." That includes a $17 million, 240-bed nursing home to replace Annaburg Manor, a $4.5 million expansion of the hospital's birthing center and a $1.2 million renovation of the 275-bed Prince William Hospital.

Schwartz was chosen after a nationwide search, because "we were looking for someone with great leadership skills to assess our position and standing," said trustee Linda Daniels. "He had the capabilities and maturity to bring us on that pathway."

Schwartz said his priorities will include reacquainting the community with the hospital and enhancing it "in the community's eyes." He said he will assess what additional services might be added for this "growing, young community" and "campaign to get the community interested in the hospital."

That way, he said, the health system may become part of more health plans.

"We want to get businesses and people to tell managed-care companies that they want Prince William Health System," Schwartz said.

Regan, president and chief executive for about five years, led the hospital through the fiery period when trustees considered selling Prince William Health System, in part to gain access to lucrative managed-care contracts. When Regan announced his pending retirement in June, he said it was "time for new leadership to help the system take its next steps into the future."

Schwartz, 58, is married and has two grown children. He has a master's degree in hospital administration and a law degree from Duke University. His wife is a high school chemistry teacher who hopes to continue teaching in the Manassas area.

"Finding Michael Schwartz solidifies our commitment to distinguished leadership, the highest caliber health services, the tradition of quality health care and outstanding community service," said trustees Chairman John Atkinson.