Ben Latimer enjoyed a front-row seat to the development of hospital alliances and group purchasing in the healthcare industry as the first full-time, paid employee of Carolinas Hospital and Health Services, a forerunner of Sun Alliance, which was a forerunner of SunHealth Alliance, which was a forerunner of Premier.
Still, he never much got involved in the purchasing side, concentrating instead on improving processes.
"Keep me out of that GPO briar patch," he insisted.
Technically, it goes back even further because the Premier of today traces its bloodline to Methodist Hospitals of Memphis, where Latimer worked as director of management systems from 1965 to 1969 just before becoming the founding executive director of Carolinas. So in 32 years, "we've grown from one to 1,800 hospitals and changed names at least four times," Latimer said. To give a "flavor" of its growth, in 1995 hospital members bought $2 billion in supplies under SunHealth contracts. This year hospital members will spend nearly $14 billion under Premier contracts, Latimer said.
Latimer, 61, retires June 30 as vice chairman of Premier where he has been since 1995 when SunHealth merged with American Healthcare Systems and Premier Health Alliance to form the San Diego-based hospital alliance. Before the merger he was president at SunHealth.
Latimer was one of those rare few who actually had the chance to apply his college major in real life. With degrees in mechanical and industrial engineering, he has concentrated on fee-for-service areas at Premier, such as process design and performance improvement, comparative data and decision support, benchmarking, and strategic consulting.
"The principle we have demonstrated is that hospitals and healthcare organizations can come together and aggregate and leverage their volume to improve the quality and operations of their organizations and use proven principles of publicly traded companies to do it," Latimer said. "That line of thinking is one I'd like to be identified with."
Insofar as his duties will be reassigned, it will take three others to replace him at Premier, alliance officials said.
Latimer views his move not as retirement but as moving on to another phase in his life, a chance to bond with his four grandchildren and avoid setting alarm clocks, he said. He is retiring at an age when he still has enough energy to try something new, although he doesn't yet know what that is, he said.
Latimer likened himself to the foot soldier carrying the flag up the hill. Though not every venture the hospital alliance embarked upon has been successful, "I got to see a lot of exciting sights, but I got shot at a lot," Latimer said laughing.