(Story updated at 11:45 p.m. ET)
Dr. Ram Raju is joining Northwell Health, the largest healthcare provider in the state of New York, the health system announced Friday. Raju, who in November stepped down from his position as president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, will serve as senior vice president and community health officer at Northwell.
In his new role, Raju is expected to work on finding ways to meet the needs of Northwell's most vulnerable communities. Northwell, a system with 21 hospitals and 550 outpatient facilities, sees 2 million people every year in the New York metro area and beyond.
“Ram's vast experience, deep commitment to caring for vulnerable communities and keen understanding of New York's healthcare delivery system make him the ideal individual to lead our efforts,” said Michael J. Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, according to a press release. “His most recent work with NYC Health + Hospitals certainly enhances his ability to respond to this challenge.”
NYC Health + Hospitals, which Raju led from January 2014 until November 2016, is the largest municipally owned health system in the U.S. and a major safety net provider, serving a large proportion of poor and uninsured patient. But it has struggled financially, facing a potential budget gap of $1.8 billion in 2020.
At Northwell, Raju's role will entail examining programs aimed at improving the health system's response to the community's needs and working with local organizations to address them.
Northwell created the position of community health investment officer specifically for Raju, who said his time at NYC Health + Hospitals taught him about what vulnerable communities need and how health policies can affect their outcomes.
“My new role with Northwell will enable me to promote, sustain and advance an environment that supports equity and diversity, and help eliminate health disparities within the communities served by Northwell throughout the city, Long Island and Westchester County,” Raju said in a press release.
Before working at NYC Health + Hospitals, Raju was CEO of the Cook County Health & Hospitals System in Chicago, the country's third-largest public health system.
Raju's appointment underscores Northwell's increased efforts to focus on community health amid a statewide emphasis on reducing health disparities. Because of the mounting evidence of the effect of the social determinants of health — factors like housing, income, food security, or education — on outcomes and health disparities, Northwell has begun expanding its assessments of community needs and mapping social determinants of health by county.
The health system has also set goals for preventing chronic disease and addressing health disparities, such as by increasing screenings and educating communities, according to its 2016-2018 Community Service Plan.
In an interview with Modern Healthcare, Dowling said that Northwell needed to focus more on the social determinants that have a much greater impact on a person’s health than medical care does. He cited Raju’s “broad, holistic perspective on the issue of health and healthcare delivery” as helping Northwell have a greater impact in addressing social determinants of health.
“We’ve done a lot of programs in the community health space, but like everything else, we need to go broader and deeper,” Dowling said. He expected Raju, who started his position at Northwell Jan. 17, to “change the way we think about our overall role in this regard.”
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