"I think we have a lot of work to do simply by aligning the services we provide at Lifespan. "
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Dr. Timothy J. Babineau was recently named the new president and CEO of Lifespan, Rhode Island’s largest hospital system and its largest private employer, with more than 14,000 employees. Babineau, who replaces George A. Vecchione, is first doctor to lead the hospital system.
Babineau will assume his new duties effective Aug. 15; he will also continue in his current capacity as president and CEO of Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam Hospital for the time being.
Providence Business News sat down with Babineau immediately after the announcement, asking him about his vision for Lifespan’s future strategic direction. Sitting in on the interview with Babineau were Scott Laurans, chairman of the Lifespan board of directors, and Mark Montella, senior vice president of External Affairs at Lifespan.
PBN: Steward Health Care, in partnership with Tufts Health Plan, has introduced a new health insurance product in Massachusetts that offers a tiered approach tied to a limited network of providers within the Steward system of 11 hospitals. It is anticipated that when Steward completes its purchase of Landmark Medical Center, it will introduce a similar product in Rhode Island. Does Lifespan, which is self-insured, have any plans to offer a limited network product in the Rhode Island market?
BABINEAU: I will be focused initially on doing the things I need to do to create a system of quality health care within Lifespan, building relationships with physicians and lowering costs.
We know that nationally there is a trend to create these so-called limited networks where patients are encouraged to use a certain health care system’s facilities. I think that the idea has merit; it’s something that we will probably explore at some point in the future.
But, right now, I think we have a lot of work to do simply by aligning the services we provide at Lifespan.
I am concerned when I heat that some of those limited networks may require patients to leave the state to receive their care. We’re very committed to keeping care local. Based on any metric relative to some of the Boston teaching hospitals, we provide a lower-cost alternative here, within the Lifespan system.
We, like other health care systems, are interested in exploring all the methodologies to lower the cost profile. I think there is a lot we can do without limited networks, but there are some things about limited networks that have appeal that we may explore in the future.
PBN: Research is key component of Lifespan’s operations, an $80 million-a-year enterprise with more than 850 employees. Where do you see the growth potential in research? Will it be in neuroscience? Will Providence become the go-to place for talent and companies in the neuroscience field?
BABINEAU: Neuroscience research will be an absolute focus of strength [at Lifespan]. Almost three years ago Rhode Island Hospital received the biggest gift in our history [to establish the Prince Neurosciences Institute]. We could have worked with the families to direct that gift in couple of different directions. But, based on what I saw coming, based on the resources that Brown University has invested in neurosciences, I think that neuroscience is really the next great frontier in medicine.
We have recruited one of the top neurosurgeons in the country, Dr. Rees Cosgrove, and we have recruited one of the top neurologists, Dr. Karen Furie.
PBN: With Lifespan’s proposed affiliation with Gateway, does that change the way that you are looking to broaden the delivery of health services in Rhode Island, through a more holistic approach?
BABINEAU: I think that the somewhat artificial separation that has existed for years between so-called mental health and physical health is going away, as we realize that one informs the other informs the other. They are interrelated.
We believe Gateway is a terrific addition to the Lifespan system, for both Gateway and for us. They had a desire to get closer to the physical health side of the business, and we had a strong desire to get out into the community, for the mental health aspect,
I think it’s a true win-win. We are in the diligence process right now; we hope to finalize that affiliation by the fall. For us, it was a perfect fit, between their focus on substance abuse disorders and mental health illness in the community, and our focus of expertise on physical and psychiatric health.
PBN: Will the new Lifespan Women’s Medicine Collaborative practice model serve as a model for other kinds of innovative models in the Lifespan system?
BABINEAU: Yes. What we have learned from the Women’s Medicine Collaborative is that having physicians drive the strategic programming decisions adds value not only in improving care but in helping us address some of the costs associated with diversifying health care.
It’s been a very successful model; we would like to replicate that model in other services lines that we may develop, such as cardiac disease, cancer, and orthopedics.
What we hear from the docs is that they want a seat at the table, I’m not sure it’s always clear which table, but they want to be part of the decision-making
At the end of the day, the physicians control most of our revenue, but they also control most of our costs, so as we think about improving quality while lowering costs, we need a different relationship, a different conversation, with our physicians. We’re testing some of those concepts in the Women’s Medicine Collaborative.
PBN: Are there other acquisitions being planned by Lifespan to add to its current hospital system?
BABINEAU: Early on, we’re going to put a lot of focus on physician alignment. My prority is to begin to move Lifespan toward becoming more of a true system, rather than a collection of hospitals.
At some point, down the road, I’m sure it will make sense to look again at the external merger and acquisition market that seems to be going on in the state. Right now, everybody’s talking to everybody.
We’re open to that, but personally, my initial focus will be on on moving Lifespan in the right direction, creating better partnerships with our physicians, better partnerships with our community and ambulatory settings.