The concepts of coordinating care or managing a population's health may be fairly common today, but such ideas were off the radar of the majority of hospitals and systems back in 1995 when Advocate Health Care was formed.
But with the help of Dr. Lee Sacks, who recently announced his retirement as chief medical officer of Advocate Aurora Health, those ideas became part of the standard of practice at not-for-profit Advocate Health Care based in Illinois, which recently merged with Wisconsin's Aurora Health Care.
“That courage for him to take the steps to organize care delivery at Advocate toward value was really something that was unconventional at the time,” said Dr. Jay Bhatt, senior vice president and CMO for the American Hospital Association. “It's allowed them to be ahead of the curve as more and more are moving toward value now.”
Though he never sought to become CEO, colleagues credit Sacks for making a mark as one of the architects of the system's formation in 1995 when Evangelical Health Systems Corp. and Lutheran General Health System merged to become Advocate. In that time, Advocate grew from having net patient revenue of $1.4 billion in 1996 to $4.5 billion in fiscal 2017.
Sacks, who was ranked 30th on Modern Healthcare's 2018 ranking of the 50 Most Influential Physicians in Healthcare, is scheduled to work his last day at Advocate Aurora on Aug. 31. He will be retiring from his dual roles as CMO for the health system as well as founding CEO of Advocate Physician Partners, a collaboration between Advocate's hospitals and its employed and independently affiliated physicians.
“He pulled together hospitals and doctors who didn't before see themselves as being part of an organization,” said Dr. Thomas Lee, CMO for Press Ganey Associates.
The system named Dr. Gary Stuck, a family medicine physician and president of Oak Lawn, Ill.-based physician's group Lawn Medical Center, as his successor beginning Sept. 1. “I'm honored to grab the baton from such a visionary and legendary leader and carry on his foundational pursuit of providing the safest care and achieving the highest quality outcomes,” Stuck said.
Sacks' ability to bring different parties together was part of his recipe for success when Advocate Physician Partners in 2004 moved to form a clinical integration program designed to improve outcomes and lower care costs. Today, Advocate Physician Partners is recognized as one of the largest accountable care organizations in the country, with more than 5,000 physicians serving 1 million patients.
“Our healthcare ministry owes Lee Sacks a debt of gratitude and one we'll never quite be able to repay,” said Jim Skogsbergh, co-CEO of Advocate Aurora Health.
In 2013, Sacks also led Advocate's initiative to eliminate the system's clinical serious safety events by 2020. By 2017, the health system was halfway to its goal, reducing serious safety events by 55% by the end of that year.
Sacks said talks about improving safety began after the 1999 release of the pivotal report To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System, which led the system to create a new strategic plan. Sacks said it required a culture change in the clinical environment that encouraged staff to become more transparent about reporting events. “I think we can confidently say that we truly have changed the culture and created one that much more embraces safety,” he said.
Skogsbergh said Sacks had a national impact on healthcare because he was promoting population health management at a time when few providers were engaged in such practices. He said Sacks understood the importance of interventions that focused on better disease management, targeting high-risk user groups and addressing social needs for socio-economically vulnerable patients as a part of the organization's overall fiscal strategy as Advocate shifted to value-based payment contracts.
Sacks said he plans to mentor up-and-coming physician leaders. Mostly, he said he looks forward to having a schedule that will allow him more free time to spend with his five grandchildren. “I'm going to take a breath,” Sacks said.