Industries Healthcare

Looking for low-hanging fruit

New center seeks ways to make health-care services work better

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Print this page by Marjolijn Bijlefeld

An effort has begun to find ways to make health-care services in Virginia cost less and work better.

The Richmond-based Virginia Center for Health Innovation (VCHI) was launched last month under the direction of its first employee — Beth Bortz, formerly the executive director of the Medical Society of Virginia Foundation and now VCHI’s president and CEO.

Bortz has been developing the concept for the center for the past two years, working with Dr. William Hazel Jr., Virginia’s secretary of health and human resources, and Barry DuVal, president and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

The center’s mission is fairly straightforward: bringing together the various groups that have a stake in health care, and involving them in seeking out better practices. “There has got to be a ton of low-hanging fruit that we can all agree on,” Bortz says. The center’s formal unveiling comes on June 6 at the Virginia Chamber’s Second Annual Virginia Health Care Conference at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.
The center has $300,000 in seed money, donated in equal parts by six groups: The Medical Society of Virginia, the Virginia Association of Health Plans, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Virginia Health Care Foundation and Virginians Improving Patient Care and Safety.

That seed money will be used to go after grants from other sources, such as the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “We’ll grow as fast as we can bring the grant money in,” Bortz says.
The funding will help support one of the center’s main goals, which is to research and test various models for delivering health care. “Right now, we don’t have any entity in the commonwealth that is evaluating what’s out there to see if it could work here,” she says. The center will probably contract with outside groups to handle the benchmark research instead of hiring more full-time staff, she says.

The first goal is creating the Virginia Health Innovation Network, which will be a platform for sharing ideas. Bortz is seeking federal grant money for that project. Another important step, she says, is educating employers. They have a lot at stake in how health care is delivered, but haven’t been as involved in influencing that market as they could be. “It’s like they’ve forgotten that they are customers, and that they have the ability to shape what they purchase,” Bortz says.

The center’s 13-member board of directors includes representatives from government and the health-care industry as well as major employers, such as Norfolk Southern and Genworth Financial.

Matthew Turner, Genworth’s vice president for U.S. employee benefits, says his company tries to manage health-care costs in part by making “significant investments in helping our employees stay healthy,” such as fitness facilities and medical clinics at its main Virginia locations in Lynchburg and Richmond. “But there’s only so much we can do,” he says. “We’ve got to get involved with it, because at the end of the day, we’re going to have to live with it.”

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