On The Spot: President and CEO of NCH Healthcare System Allen Weiss
“Now it’s more like the squeaky wheel falls off.”
People want to be healthy. That simple statement is the driving factor of a lot of what Dr. Allen Weiss does each day. As president and CEO of NCH Healthcare System, the far-reaching public hospital and health care company, Weiss wants to give the people what they want. But it’s not always as simple as providing quality care. Over the past two years, Weiss and NCH have been battling on all sides. He’s battling with opponents of his personal and professional passion project, the Blue Zones Project, which aims to increase life expectancy and health via a system of behavioral and environmental changes. He’s battling with Lee Memorial Health System, the larger public hospital company based in Fort Myers, especially over the right to provide care to the growing Bonita Springs market.
But he’s not doing it alone. Local organizations are jumping to be on board with the Blue Zones and a series of governmental and legal rulings have kept NCH in the game in Bonita. We sat down to talk to Weiss about these topics and the changing face of health care finance.
On Blue Zones and politics
“Really, the Blue Zones are apolitical. But two people on the school board chose to make it an issue. This is the first time in 27 tries that the schools have not been completely on board. Thankfully, three people on the board agreed with us. And so does most everyone else. There’s the saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Now it’s more like the squeaky wheel falls off. We don’t want the squeaky wheel to be a part of us. But, ironically, I think in this case they were extraordinary helpful to us. It was a paradoxical effect. It really helped us spread the word about the project.”
On the Blue Zones tipping point
“It’s got to be a grassroots thing, and it really is so far. Right now we are still in the early adopter phase. That’s like 5 percent, then you’ll have another 25 percent that really gets into it; I think that’s when you’ll really start to see it moving. Of course there’s going to be 10 percent that’s just apathetic, but that’s OK. By then you’ve got the majority of people involved.”
On Bonita Springs and quality health care
(Editor’s note: After this interview was conducted, an arbitrator ruled that Lee Memorial simply couldn’t buy out NCH’s joint interest in the Bonita Community Health Center.)
“The people of Bonita Springs know they have to come south for the highest quality of care. We were recently rated in the top 5 percent in the nation. We were ranked No. 9 in the state and that ranking has been going up, from 22nd to 17th to now ninth. People understand quality. They understand our Mayo Clinic affiliation. People have a preference and most are familiar and comfortable with what we offer.”
On creating more homegrown doctors
“We are launching graduate medical education, with internal medical residencies starting in July 2017. Education helps quality. It will keep everyone on their toes. And this will grow the number of doctors in the area. By having folks do their residencies here, they are going to end up practicing here. We’ll be graduating 12 every year in internal medicine. Even if they all go away afterward, some will come back.”
On the changing of health care incentives
“We have to keep our focus on caring for people. Rome wasn’t built in a week, right? You can’t take a $3 trillion industry with 30 percent waste and change it overnight. But you have to start somewhere. In the traditional health care process, it was fee for service. But that’s changing. Medicare by 2018 is supposed to have 50 percent of its payments on value-based care. So instead of paying you for the service, say, a hip replacement, and then paying separately for the physical therapy and other service, they will give us a bundled payment for all of it. If we can do all of it with a good outcome for less, then we get to keep a percentage of the leftover money. But if it costs us more, then we are stuck with the difference.”