John S.T. Gallagher, formerly of Setauket, who was instrumental in forming the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System and was its first chief executive, has died.

Gallagher, known as Jack, died Saturday of a heart attack at his home in Palm Beach, Florida. He was 83.

"He was a giant," said Ralph Nappi, executive vice chairman of the board of trustees at North Shore-LIJ, who knew Gallagher for 40 years. "It was his vision to create the system."

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Michael Dowling, hired by Gallagher and his successor as chief executive, said he was "a pioneer." "Because of his action, it changed health care in the state," he said.

Gallagher, a native of Jackson Heights, Queens, started out in his family's tire business after graduating in 1953 from Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts. He became interested in hospital administration and received his master of science in public health and epidemiology from Yale in 1963. That year he joined what was then called North Shore Hospital as an intern.

In eight years, he was named hospital administrator; in 1982 he was appointed executive vice president, a title upgraded to chief executive in 1992.

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In the 1990s, Gallagher realized managed care companies were reshaping health care by setting reimbursement rates. He developed a plan for an integrated health care system, joining hospitals in the region to achieve economies of scale and to negotiate favorably with insurance companies.

In 1997 he helped facilitate the merger that created the North Shore-LIJ Health System, now the largest in the state and the nation's 11th largest nonprofit health system.

In 1999, Newsday named him one of the 100 most influential Long Islanders of the century, saying that he "has done more than any other single individual to mold the Long Island hospital market."


He retired the next year and was Nassau County deputy county executive for health and human services from 2002 to 2004. In late 2005, he began eight months as interim chief executive at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Known as affable and approachable with employees, Gallagher was equally affectionate with his six children, said his daughter Grace Haggerty of Centre Island.

"What you saw in the hospital, that's what we saw at home. He was a loving, wonderful man," she said.

He loved boating, taught the neighborhood kids to water ski, she said, and liked to unwind playing standards such as "My Funny Valentine" on the piano.

He is also survived by his wife, Aileen; his children, John of Atlanta, Robert of Stony Brook, Louise Greco of Setauket, Thomas of Manhattan, Paul of Stony Brook; seven stepchildren; 27 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His first wife, Grace, died in 1999.

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Viewing is to be at Oyster Bay Funeral Home Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. A Mass is to be said at 10 a.m. Friday at Saint Gertrude's Church, Bayville. Interment is private.