August 6, 2012

Children’s Med eyes regional expansion

Martin Gavin, CEO, Connecticut Children's Medical Center

Martin Gavin has ambitions to turn Connecticut Children's Medical Center into a regional hub for health care.

The 187-bed hospital's recent partnership with Springfield's Shriners Hospital for Children was the medical center's first attempt to extend its brand beyond the Nutmeg State's borders.

But that move, says Gavin, the medical center's chief executive officer, was just the start of an aggressive five-year strategic plan, in which the hospital will invest up to $100 million in new technology, infrastructure, research, and services to expand its footprint and position itself as the go-to provider of children's medical care.

"We are embarking on some major initiatives," Gavin said in a recent interview. "Our goal is to become the children's hospital of southern New England."

Gavin said expanding the hospital's geographic footprint is important because of the stagnant population growth in Connecticut and the fact that only a limited percentage of children need in-patient hospital care.

One of the reasons many small hospitals are merging and affiliating with larger players, Gavin said, is to create economies of scale that allow them to operate more efficiently.

The goal for Children's Medical Center is to provide services throughout southern New England, including tapping into the western Massachusetts and eastern New York markets, Gavin said.

That should help grow the hospitals clinical operations by 30 percent over the next five years. The Shriners Hospital partnership will allow both providers to combine clinical and financial resources, but could eventually grow into an even closer relationship down the line.

"We need a much bigger footprint to have enough scale," Gavin said.

Of course, the hospital has already been growing steadily in both size and reach since Gavin took over as CEO in 2006. The medical center's employment base has grown by 400 people; it has added 52 in-patient beds; total admissions have nearly doubled to 10,602.

Annual fundraising has also nearly tripled to $10.3 million.

But in order to help finance some of the growth planned for the next five years, Gavin said he is setting an aggressive annual fundraising target of $25 million.

Bonding and revenue from operations will also help fund future investment.

"In the world of not-for-profits, charitable giving is going to be necessary," Gavin said.

Gavin was named CEO of Connecticut Children's in 2006 with little experience in running a hospital and at a time when the medical center was coming under intense regulatory scrutiny from the state. He replaced longtime president and CEO Larry Gold who resigned a short time after the Department of Public Health put the hospital on probation for patient safety violations.

Gavin, who spent most of his professional career in the insurance and investment industries — including working 16 years as an executive at the Phoenix Cos. in Hartford — made an immediate impact. He got more state aid, hired a new emergency department chief and pushed for investments in the ER and in health IT to help improve care quality.

Now, the medical center is embarking on one of its largest ever investments including a $38 million information technology overhaul.

Kelly Styles, Connecticut Children's vice president and chief information officer, said the medical center has been moving away from a shared service IT pact with Hartford Hospital to create a standalone IT department. A department that had 13 employees a few years ago has grown to more than 100 today.

The IT investment includes the build out of a new data center in Rocky Hill and a new information system that will allow the medical center to integrate all of its providers under one health IT system, so that patient data and records can be more easily transferred. It will also computerize hospital processes like scheduling and registration to improve operations management.

Before the IT investment, Styles said, only about 35 percent of the hospital had been wired, meaning there is still widespread use of paper record keeping.

That will change after the IT investment is complete over the next few years.

"We need to be able to cross-feed information electronically to establish a continuum of care," Styles said.

Gavin said the hospital is also moving to beef up its preventive care programs, and recently launched an Office for Community Child Health to consolidate under one roof all of their community programs that aim to keep kids from needing to go to the hospital in the first place.

The multimillion-dollar initiative is being housed at the medical center's East Hartford satellite office in Founders Plaza, and will include 12 different programs, including its nationally recognized asthma treatment and training called Easy Breathing.

The program office will also develop and test different health service delivery models that address community, state, and health system needs.

As many hospitals consider new models of care as a result of the changing health care landscape, Connecticut Children's is weighing its options. Gavin is interested in partnering with a managed care company to create a managed care organization that caters to children.

It's something that has been tried in Texas, where the Texas Children's Hospital established its own children's health plan a few years ago, Gavin said.

The partnership would operate like a private label insurance company and allow the medical center and an insurer to better align their interests by moving away from a fee-for-service model to a shared risk system that pays the hospital to manage the care of their patient population.

"We want to partner with a managed care company to better align our interests," Gavin said.

In terms of infrastructure investment, Gavin said it's not his goal to make Connecticut Children's a big player in brick and mortar expansion, saying he prefers to lease space when possible rather than build new locations from the ground-up. Connecticut Children's, however, will construct a new $10 million surgery center in Farmington to accommodate increasing demand for outpatient surgeries and shrinking space on its Hartford campus.

There are also plans to build a new primary care center in Hartford by the end of 2013. The medical center has quietly expanded to 17 locations around the state over the years. That expansion has included small practices and specialty care hospitals.

Gavin said they also plan to invest $7 million to expand their research capabilities, including finding new partnership opportunities with the UConn Health Center and Jackson Laboratory on genomics research relevant to pediatric diseases.

But most importantly, Gavin said, all the investments the hospital will make over the next five years will aim to improve the quality of care for patients. And as part of that effort, Connecticut Children's is changing its vision statement from being an institution that provides the best health care for children to trying to make "children in Connecticut the healthiest in the country."

"That is our ultimate mission," Gavin said.

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