Jeff has been a builder of healthcare relationships for nearly 30 years. Learn about how he got started in the industry, the work he does leading healthcare forward, and his mentorship of the next generation of healthcare leaders here at ECG.
Q: How did you get into healthcare management consulting?
A: We’re going to go way back. I grew up in Rochester, Minnesota, and one of my first jobs—in the summers after my first three years of college—was working at the Mayo Clinic as a surgical technician. That’s where my interest in healthcare began.
I got started in healthcare consulting when I was in the MHA program at the University of Minnesota. I really loved the idea of consulting and project work. So I interviewed with consulting firms, and I accepted my first job out of grad school in 1988 with Tribrook Healthcare Consultants in Chicago. This June will be my 31st year supporting health system clients.
Q: How did you become interested in enterprise strategy?
A: When I joined Tribrook I was in their strategy group—though, frankly, I didn’t really know what that meant at the time. I started to see the impact of the work when I was able to help several clients in pivotal strategy decisions.
When you help organizations make decisions that change their direction, and in some cases change healthcare in their communities for the foreseeable future, that feels good. That’s not every day or every project, but you get to do a lot of other fun things as well.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge in your service area facing healthcare organizations today?
A: In the last five or six years, we have seen a strong focus on population health and developing abilities to improve care.
Many of our clients beyond the West Coast are struggling to find partners that want to do population health. There is some question in the field about the value of that versus focusing on building your fee-for-service capabilities—likely shortsighted, but CEOs need to show a margin. Many of our larger system clients will likely lead on this front, making the infrastructure investments necessary to change their future.
In many areas, where organizations are still growing, I think many are taking what I would term a back-to-basics approach: “We have to run the operation better and more efficiently, meaning our employed medical groups have to be more productive, medical group 3.0; we need to do revenue cycle better; we need basic service line operations improvement. We need some contract assessments and managed care improvement in our contracts.” There’s still strategic growth and building service lines, which is important, but I think that’s where they are. And that typically means focusing on the big service lines. I mean, when you look at cancer, births, orthopedics, and heart, you’ve got 60% to 70% of everything hospitals do.
Q: What is the most interesting challenge you’ve faced as a consultant?
A: The most fascinating challenges are when clients have determined that they’re going in a different direction or are making pivotal decisions. Whether that means creating unique partnerships for those clients or helping them analyze strategies to expand into new services in new areas—those have been the most exciting things.
Q: Is there a particularly rewarding project that you’ve worked on?
A: Some of my long-term clients, like Memorial Health System in Ohio—I was there and helped them develop the strategy to build a medical group 20 years ago, and today that medical group is 300 physicians strong. It was a rural community with two hospitals, and the hospitals are almost 100 years old, but there was no self-sustaining medical group. Physicians came, and practiced, but when their careers were over, their small medical group went away. We built a strategy around the vision of, “Why should the community have a hospital that’s 100 years old but no medical group?”
Then, in Tennessee, everybody said our client, the hospital, had to merge. We were the contrarians and said, “Well, it’s an option, but it’s not your only option.” And they decided to stay independent. The CEO today talks about how many people they believe have survived in their community because they have immediate stroke care or other sorts of trauma care available, where if they had merged, those services would have been 45 minutes away. I mean, they actually will list how many people each year came in to the ED via stroke, and what percentage of those people totally recovered. They strongly believe that the fact that they are there with full capability has allowed many of their regional citizens to live better lives. I mean, that’s very exciting.
Another project was in San Diego, where Palomar Health was in deep financial trouble, losing $20 million a year. We came in with a new CEO, did the strategic plan and an operations plan, and helped turn the organization around. They built a new hospital and did a pivotal capital deal with Kaiser Permanente, resulting in new cardiologists and surgeons in Escondido.
Q: What’s the best part of your workday?
A: Working with my colleagues. One of the reasons that I’ve stayed in consulting is working with all the really, really smart young people around me: the consultants, and the managers, and the senior managers. I love when we have internal team work sessions and really dig into the client issues and answers. It pushes me to be better. I have to be, because trying to keep up with them is never-ending. It’s renewing and enjoyable to be around it.
I think one of the differences in consulting is, we’re not great managers; we’re advisers. While certainly we manage projects and things like that, our real role is advising, and developing analyses that lead to conclusions, and helping clients understand our recommendations. So when you think of our workday, 99% of our workday I am, and others in the firm are, surrounded by focused, smart, energetic people.
Q: What are the publications that you read to keep up to date on healthcare issues?
A: I read Modern Healthcare, HS&M, Harvard Business Review, and then I read different state publications, particularly in states where I have multiple clients. Those are the things that I read to stay topical. I think the biggest question is, “What, strategically, is concerning our CEO clients?” We have to stay on top of that—and have answers.
Q: What do you do outside of the office?
A: (Laughs) Is there an outside of the office? We travel, garden, live in never-ending home renovation, read, and play at photography. We actually do hike and things like that when we spend time in the desert in Palm Springs. Be with friends.
Q: Do you have any animals?
A: Yes: our dog, Lucy, 60 pounds, Labradoodle mix. She’s 10 years old now, but she’s still pretty active, running in the desert. I’m down in Palm Springs right now, and she is chasing lizards under the plants; she’s our lizard girl!