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Health Care 20/20: Atlanta’s health care leaders reveal what keeps them up at night

We are very proud of Camellia Place’s own, Andrew McFall  Partner, Executive Director.  He was asked to join a panel on the Business of Aging and the future of our Seniors in America. This is an extremely distinguished panel of recognized leaders in the “new” way to approach Assisted Living.

A wide range of issues, from preparing for the growing aging population to cybersecurity, keep some of the top health care leaders in metro Atlanta up at night.

Speaking Thursday morning at Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Health Care 20/20 event, representatives of Piedmont Healthcare, Navicent Health, WellStar Health System and Gwinnett Medical Center discussed how they manage uncertainty, successful initiatives, collaboration and consumerism.

Chris Kane, principal at Progressive Healthcare Inc., moderator of the “Health Care Planning In Uncertain Times” discussion, asked the panelists what kept them up at night, and how they made decisions – based on data, or from the gut.

“Look at the health care model — there’s no other industry out there where the majority of your revenues are fixed but your expenses can grow and can grow exponentially,” said Thomas Shepherd, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Gwinnett Medical Center. “Last year, just looking at pharmaceuticals, it was a 23 percent increase in pharmaceuticals. So when you think of a budget the size that we have that is a huge impact. You have to figure out what you can make up differentially on the revenue side.

“A lot of businesspeople are sitting here looking at me and saying, ‘Yeah but look at all that money you are billing.’ Well, when you are only paid cents on the dollar against your costs, that’s quite different than getting a dollar for a dollar, if you are a tire establishment or if you are selling consulting services.”

Shepherd said he is also concerned about the coming jump in the over-65 population.

“It becomes exponential here in a few years … and I am not sure we will be ready for some of these services,” he said.

Christopher Cornue, chief strategy and chief innovation officer, Navicent Health, said he relies more heavily on data than his gut in making decisions.

“As a result, we are trying to get access to as much data as possible and (create) a data warehouse so that we can actually gain insights from that data and make very strong, informed decisions,” Cornue said. “I also think that from a strategic perspective, one of the things that keeps us up and really makes me worry a little bit more is when we develop these strategies that are going to be core for our future relevance, our future sustainability, how do we go ahead and execute quickly?

“Because we recognize that the speed by which things are changing – of course I am not saying anything which is new to anybody in the audience – but the speed is so quick and when we identify what the strategies look like – and I am sure that many of the strategies that we all have up on stage are all probably very similar – but it’s the speed by which, and the expertise by which, we are able to execute. So that is probably the crux, where we try to get strategy and execution together.”

Kem Mullins, executive vice president, ambulatory division and business development, WellStar Health System, agreed that economic challenges and the rate of change were issues.

“But at the end of the day, what personally keeps me up at night is what am I doing to ensure that we are providing the right care, at the right place, at the right time? And you know because we have a growing population, and an aging population that means that we have to come up with innovative ways to rechannel the care delivery model,” Mullins said. “And with these economic challenges, where are you finding the knowledge to do that?”

That led Mullins to another sleep-blocking concern.

“One other item for me personally is what are we doing to attract and retain top talent? When you look at the delivery of health care, it is very personal. It’s very, very dependent on the humanistic element,” he said.

No matter how much a health system expands and invests in technology, “if you don’t have the right people, you can fail in your mission,” Mullins said. “And this is a very competitive landscape when it comes to having the best nurses or the best doctors. I think that competition is good. I think it’s made all of our systems better for it.”

Kevin Brown, president and CEO of Piedmont Healthcare, joked that he wasn’t losing sleep.

“I agree that the biggest concern is losing the patient in the midst of all the uncertainty and making sure that we don’t get away from our core purpose, which is taking care of people,” Brown said. “But I would think that technically the thing that keeps me up the most at night, that I am most worried about, really is cyber security.

“The health systems — we are just under attack. It’s an industry that’s rich in data and therefore is very rich in criminal activity and so we spend an enormous amount of resources trying to protect our patient information,” Brown said. “I worry about that just because of the pace of which the attacks are coming and it consumes a lot of resources, a lot of energy, and it’s something that obviously is very important to us.”

The Health Care 20/20 event, held Oct. 26 at the Cobb Energy and Performing Arts Centre, also included panel discussions on the impact of the opioid crisis and the aging population boom.

“Rock Bottom: A Multidimensional Look at the Opioid Crisis” was slated to include Dr. Carlton Buchanan, medical director, Emergency Services, Gwinnett Medical Center; Dr. Joseph Funk, vice chief of staff, Northside Hospital; and Gregg Raduka, director of prevention/intervention, The Council on Alcohol and Drugs. The moderator was David Rubinger, publisher and market president of Atlanta Business Chronicle.

“A Life Time of Care: The Business of Longevity and Aging” was slated to include Dr. Sharon Horesh Bergquist, assistant professor of medicine, Emory School of Medicine, medical director, Emory Executive Health, and master clinician, Emory Department of Medicine; Sarah Farmer, research scientist and project manager for HomeLabs, Georgia Tech Research Institute; Andrew McFall, Executive Director, Camellia Place; and Katherine Pearson, director of operations, Northside Hospital Cherokee. The discussion moderator was Dr. Randy Martin, chief medical officer, Bay Labs Inc. and emeritus professor of medicine (Cardiology) Emory University, School of Medicine.