Despite that, the Intermountain board continues to support such work. “We know there will be decisions that will impact revenue,” said Ann Millner, an Intermountain trustee and former president of Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. “But what's more important is making sure that we do the things that are appropriate for the mission of the organization.”
Sorenson said being an integrated system with its own health plan has given the system greater ability and motivation to focus on controlling costs. Not that Intermountain is hurting financially. Its revenue climbed steadily between 2009 and 2012, topping $4.38 billion in 2012. Sorenson earned $1.75 million in 2012. The system has a AA+ bond rating from Standard & Poor's and an Aa1 rating from Moody's.
Intermountain's market share by revenue has been holding steady statewide at 55%. Meanwhile, though, University of Utah Health Care grew to a statewide market share of 17.3% in 2012. The next two largest competitors statewide are HCA's MountainStar Healthcare and Iasis Healthcare, with 11.9% and 7.7% market share by revenue in 2012, respectively, according to Leavitt Partners.
Hospitals owned by the four systems are within 10 miles of each another, in and around Salt Lake City. “We have strong competition,” said Greg Bell, CEO of the Utah Hospital Association.
Sorenson said he's not worried. “Market share may be a false indicator of success,” he said. “If you think about it, every time somebody comes into the hospital or has to go in and have surgery, maybe it's an indication of failure of the health system to prevent that.”
He describes University of Utah as an important collaborator, not just a competitor. Leaders of University of Utah Health Care, the only academic healthcare system in the state, say the same thing. “The relationship with Intermountain is in many ways a very symbiotic relationship,” said Vivian Lee, CEO of University of Utah Health Care. “We have a very strong partnership I value very much.”
About half of the university's medical graduates who remain in Utah go to work at Intermountain. The two systems collaborate on research and clinical trials. And Primary Children's Hospital, the only Level I Pediatric Trauma Center in the region, is owned by Intermountain but sits on the university's health science campus, with most of the doctors there on the University of Utah's medical school faculty.
The partnership between the two systems is so strong that when Lee was interviewing for her CEO position three and a half years ago, the process included a meeting with Sorenson. “That was one of the best meetings and really set the tone for my relationship with Charles,” Lee said.
Sorenson and others credit many of Intermountain's accomplishments to its original mission of providing excellent healthcare services to the community. The mission goes back to 1975 when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated its 15-hospital system to the community. “They were born out of a sense of genuine mission and I think that's made a difference,” said Michael Leavitt, who formerly served as Utah governor and HHS secretary and now heads Leavitt Partners.
Leavitt said Sorenson embodies that sense of mission. “Of CEOs I know around the country, their mission is important, but there are none that are more mission-driven than Dr. Charles Sorenson,” he said. “He's a physician, and he's able to exude among the physicians, medical staff and others the importance of mission. I think he lives it.”