10 Kentucky health systems band together in statewide collaborative

Baptist Health and LifePoint Health are among 10 health systems operating in Kentucky joining a collaborative they say will combat the state's poor health outcomes by sharing best practices and reducing the costs of care. The news of the collaboration comes the same week as Gov. Matt Bevin announced he plans to end Kynect, the state-operated health-insurance exchange established by his predecessor.

The Kentucky Health Collaborative is still in its early stages of development, according to a news release. The group has yet to identify which areas of improvement it will tackle first.

William Shepley will serve as the organization's inaugural executive director. The collaboration consists of 55 hospitals statewide. He said the group will first focus on ways to improve cost efficiencies by examining purchasing policies.

The organization will be fully functioning in March, he said. A board of directors will consist of the 10 CEOs from each of the participating health systems. Shepley will report to them.

Shepley has 25 years of experience in the industry, including as vice president for regional affiliations at Raleigh, N.C.-based WakeMed.

The health systems will remain independent and the collaboration will allow them to share and compare their best practices and outcomes with each other, Shepley said.

“There will be so many minds working together trying to find answers to how we improve health,” Shepley said.

Shepley said the organization will focus on decreasing the rate of obesity, smoking and diabetes statewide, likely by collaborating with communities to implement wellness programs. He could not provide specifics at this time.

Kentucky has one of the highest obesity rates in the country. According to 2014 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30-35% of the population is obese.

More health systems are beginning to form collaborations as hospitals face penalties or incentives based on population health statistics, said Gary Young, director of the Center for Health Policy and Healthcare Research at Northeastern University.

Young added that it is beneficial for hospitals to work together because they share the same goals and can also share any financial risks and rewards.

Many hospitals are in a phase of “experimentation” as they try to adapt to healthcare changes, and whether such collaborations are actually effective in improving outcomes has yet to be seen, Young said.

“We don't have a lot of data if it's been working,” Young said. “We've got to see more studies.”

Experts say that work on population health is often successful because the only thing you can show is improvement.

Bevin, a Republican and staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act, told lawmakers on Tuesday he plans to move forward to end the state's health insurance exchange that was created under his Democratic predecessor Steve Beshear.

Bevin said last month he would overhaul the state's expanded Medicaid program with an ACA-based waiver. He cited Indiana's cost-sharing model as one to possibly replicate, but he has yet to provide details on how exactly the program would work. He also has expressed support for a block-grant approach to Medicaid championed by conservatives.

Dr. Michael Karpf, executive vice president for health affairs at UK Healthcare, one of the groups involved in the collaborative, said their effort was not in response to Bevin's plans. The systems had begun talking about the collaboration before the election. Karpf said the collaborative will "figure out how the plan will respond" once coverage is cut.

The other health systems that have signed on as charter members of the collaborative are:

• Appalachian Regional Healthcare, Lexington

• Ephraim McDowell Health, Danville

• Norton Healthcare, Louisville

• Owensboro (Ky.) Health

• St. Claire Regional Medical Center, Morehead

• St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Edgewood

• The Medical Center, Bowling Green

• UK HealthCare, Lexington

Aurora Aguilar

Aurora Aguilar assigns and edits news stories for Modern Healthcare magazine and its online newsletters. She previously worked at Chicago Public Media, the NPR affiliate in Chicago, where she served as news director after stints as a senior project editor for Front & Center and senior producer of Eight Forty-Eight with Steve Edwards. Prior to that, she covered crime, courts, business and municipal government for the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights and Elgin, Ill. She has won numerous awards from the Chicago Headline Club, the Associated Press and the National Association of Black Journalists among other organizations.

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