Kaiser CEO promises strategic shift to stronger focus on equity: HLTH 2020

Hospital Administration

Dive Brief:

  • Integrated health giant Kaiser Permanente said it intends to put a stronger focus on equity and inclusion in one of Greg Adams’ first major moves as CEO.
  • The Oakland, California-based nonprofit plans to bring ethnicity and race factors into how it evaluates quality and care across the organization, Adams said Monday at the HLTH virtual conference. Kaiser’s board, which finished strategic planning in the middle of the pandemic, is still figuring out what that means in practice.
  • “As a board we made the decision that we would own healthcare disparities for all care that we provide,” Adams said. “We haven’t quite figured out how we’re going to do that… [but] the point the board made is, owning it for a few conditions is not sufficient.”

Dive Insight:

There’s rising acceptance in the industry to recognize environmental and socioeconomic factors that impact health outcomes, especially amid a pandemic exacerbating existing disparities in the U.S.

It’s a pivotal time, as the coronavirus throws gaping socioeconomic and health divides into stark relief. Black Americans are about three times as likely as White people to contract the virus, and about twice as likely to die from COVID-19, according to a report from the National Urban League based on Johns Hopkins University data.

For Kaiser’s part, Adams vowed to integrate “social health into our care model at the same level as we have physical care.” Kaiser surveyed almost 9,000 members in March, and 42% members said they struggled to buy food and pay bills, while 35% experienced social isolation.

As one step, Kaiser is publishing a COVID-19 Social Health Playbook with guidance for care teams to screen patients for social needs. It’s also expanding its Thrive Local social health network launched last year to reduce homelessness, food insecurity and other community needs, with plans to be available by 2022 across Kaiser’s entire footprint.

Most major payers, including the federal government, are trying to address SDOH factors, including Intermountain Healthcare, UnitedHealth Group and Humana. For-profit providers have been less active, but have spent about $2.5 billion on SDOH programs from 2017 to 2019, and analysts think that momentum could increase due to the rise of value-based care and growing federal coverage for supplemental benefits.

Kaiser is one of the biggest nonprofit integrated systems in the U.S., with 12.4 million members, 39 hospitals and 715 medical officers across the country. But as the coronavirus surged in the U.S., “it felt like we needed to move faster and operate more as one,” Adams said.

As a result, the 75-year-old system, which had operating revenue of $84.5 billion last year, is now much more aggressive and oriented toward taking risk, Adams said — including the stronger focus on health equity and inclusion.

It also has the financial stability to take on such projects, bringing in net income of $4.5 billion in the second quarter, more than double same time last year.

Adams replaced Kaiser’s previous CEO Bernard Tyson following the Tyson’s unexpected death late last year. Tyson’s tenure was defined by efforts to tackle SDOH.

In 2019, the system launched an initiative to cut down on food insecurity starting with a texting campaign to link eligible California residents with social benefits. And Kaiser made a $200 million commitment in 2018 to reduce homelessness. Of that tranche, about $33 million has been spent to date, Adams said.

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