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Hartford HealthCare president says company must keep up with 'blinding' change

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Norwich — People who work for hospital systems like Hartford HealthCare are going to have to start thinking about patients as customers, too, the company's President and CEO Elliot Joseph said Tuesday.

Speaking at the first joint meeting on the financial performance of The William W. Backus and Windham hospitals — both part of the Hartford HealthCare system and now grouped under one president as part of the company's East Region — Joseph compared the company’s peers to elephants: huge companies taking over the health care industry. The meeting was held at a Hartford HealthCare administrative building in Norwich.

Joseph listed three major plans for mergers announced in just the last two months: the hospital operators Ascension Health and Providence St. Joseph Health said they are in talks to possibly merge, hospital system Dignity Health said it would merge with Colorado’s Catholic Health Initiatives and Advocate Health Care said it plans to merge with Wisconsin health care giant Aurora Health Care.

“These are all organization that were already very large, who have decided that we all can’t go it alone,” he said. “The pace of change that has been driving health care across America has been profound.”

Other companies like Amazon, Google, Aetna and CVS are investing in new health care technology and products outside of hospital-based systems.

“They’re setting the pace,” Joseph said.

Hartford HealthCare must keep up changes in the health care market by diversifying the services that Backus and other Hartford HealthCare facilities provide, partnering with other companies like Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and distinguishing its brand from the competition, Joseph said.

“We are moving from being a hospital company to a health care company,” he said, adding there was no room to be uncomfortable with the pace of change. “We may not be going fast enough.”

Backus, the region’s second-largest hospital, which joined the Hartford HealthCare network in 2013, ended the 2017 fiscal year in September with a positive operating margin of 9.8 percent, down from the operating margin of 11.9 percent it reported at the end of fiscal year 2016.

East Region president Donna Handley, who oversees both Backus and Windham hospitals, reported that revenues from ongoing operations in fiscal year 2017 at Backus amounted to $319,889,000, slightly higher than the 2016 report.

Hospital officials attributed the lower operating margin to investments that Backus was making and the challenging nature of the health care market across the country.

“We have not escaped untouched,” Backus board Chairwoman Diane Wishnafski said in introductory remarks, citing uncertainty at the state and federal level over hospital reimbursement rates, mandates and hospital taxes.

Handley, who took over leadership of Backus and Windham hospitals in October as part of leadership shifts within Hartford HealthCare, called 2017 a "successful year," citing the hiring of new primary care physicians at Hartford HealthCare facilities along the shoreline, improved ratings at Windham Hospital and new robotic orthopedics technology at Backus.

"I am here, and it's my charge ... to grow the East Region," she said.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story included incorrect information about Backus' 2017 revenues.


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