Laird founded and led both the Greater Newport Physicians, an independent practice association with almost 900 doctors, and Nautilus Healthcare Management Group in 1985. They became part of the MemorialCare Foundation medical-management system last year. The Foundation is a subsidiary of the MemorialCare Health System, and it includes the MemorialCare Medical Group, which has about 100 employed physicians.
Leading a physician organization has been compared to herding cats, and Laird said that's a fair description. “It stems from training to be self-sufficient and highly competitive,” she said. “It's a reality, but it's also changed in the past several years as more physicians have joined large groups and integrated healthcare systems.”
Laird, 53, is also a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed last December and became cancer-free after eight months of treatment. “It was a life-altering event,” Laird said. “It is like looking down the barrel of a rifle. It does change your perspective.”
The experience has made her a stronger advocate for access to care and for promoting preventive care and screenings. “Even the most educated people don't think it can happen to them,” she said.
In addition to its hospitals and physician operations, MemorialCare now has its own health plan. Laird said having an insurance arm “is one of the arrows in the quiver that you have to have” to be a truly integrated healthcare system. But that doesn't mean MemorialCare is out to duplicate Kaiser Permanente, another California-based integrated healthcare system with its own health plan.
“I think Kaiser is an admirable model, but they don't offer as much choice to the consumer and the provider,” Laird said. “Although it's a great product, it's one flavor. We have the ability to offer a plurality of approaches.”
These approaches include services from an accountable care organization developed by Greater Newport Physicians, Blue Shield of California and Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, Calif., an institution which is not in the MemorialCare system. Other approaches include a string of primary-care health centers which MemorialCare announced last month that it would open and operate with UC Irvine Health.
“A big part of the future will be collaborations,” Laird said. “Everything doesn't have to be about a merger. All kinds of partnerships are going to evolve.”
Laird promised there will be more announcements about other organizations forming partnerships with MemorialCare in the future.
Growth continues within the IPA as well, and Greater Newport Physicians has almost doubled its number of doctors since joining MemorialCare, from about 450 to almost 900.
"Doctors have recognized the need to be part of something bigger," Laird said. "You can't be an isolated entity without continuing to shrink."
Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks