Hackensack Meridian Health responds to market challenges by creating a new ecosystem that enables expansion into new areas and enhanced care for patients

In 2023, health systems are facing new challenges centered around increased consumer demand, managing the social determinants of health, and shifting care from the hospital to the home.

In response to these challenges, Hackensack Meridian Health — a New Jersey-based fully integrated health network that includes 18 hospitals, 36,000 team members and 7,000 physicians — has adapted its operating model to enhance provider/payor relationships, increase internal collaboration, and care for patients in new and different ways.

“As an organization, our priority is to skate to where the puck is going — and to do that, we needed to disrupt ourselves and develop a new ecosystem that would allow us to pivot away from the old ‘heads and beds’ perspective on health care so we can deliver what the market is requesting of us,” said Patrick Young, President of Population Health at Hackensack Meridian Health. “Our responsibility is to serve our communities in an appropriate way, and we knew we needed to push the envelope and create a culture that would allow us to expand into new areas that enhance the quality of care for our patients.”

Here are a few strategies Hackensack Meridian Health used to create a culture of ‘fearless’ innovation among its 14,000 Population Health team members:

1. Question the current operating model.

Hackensack Meridian Health recognized that in order to make a difference, they needed to do things differently — changing the way teams collaborated, their workflows and responsibilities while expanding into new areas. The historical approach with operational teams like revenue cycle, clinical operations, managed care, population health & value-based care, contracting, physician alliances & home care, each operating under independent leadership, perpetuates these teams working in silos. This approach is still frequently used today – and it doesn’t work.

Hackensack changed this by bringing all of these business units under one centralized leadership structure, which encourages close cross-team collaboration and enables the team to pivot and move quickly to meet market demands. This also allows for the Hackensack organization to innovate rapidly with these critical teams aligned around the same vision and goals for new care delivery models.

“We believe home care is going to happen, so we’re building the infrastructure now so we can move care delivery from the hospital to the home — or, with our rapid response initiatives, keep people out of the hospital altogether,” said Young. “But the first step is recognizing that a shift in our operating model needed to happen.”

2. Break down silos.

By bringing together several divisions with overlapping areas of responsibility under the Population Health umbrella, it has led to increased efficiency, cost savings, and collaboration.

“The teams responsible for population health clinical operations, commercial market and value- based care, social determinants of health, physician and community partnerships, community outreach, managed care and home care all report to me,” said Young. “This change in structure has contributed to increased performance of our teams because they have a direct line of sight across each other’s activities, which creates synergy and enables them to stay connected to how care is happening.”

This means communication is easier. For example, it’s often challenging for traditional home health and hospital discharge teams to collaborate consistently and effectively. This creates an inconsistent experience for patients, often for the ones who need support the most.

3. Create a culture of collaboration.

In addition to fostering collaboration within the organization, Hackensack Meridian Health has also enhanced collaboration with payers, partner physicians and community-based organizations by:

Viewing payers as collaborative partners.

The team at Hackensack Meridian Health believes there doesn’t have to be friction between payers and providers — which makes it possible to create an environment of fairness where “everybody wins.”

“We receive weekly claims data from our payers and provide them with access to our EMR,” said Young. “By unleashing data to provide a complete view of each patient, we can optimize the quality of care each patient/member receives and address clinical and social issues.”

The team also looks at how they are performing on value-based contracts each month, which enables them to quickly identify and resolve care gaps and utilization issues.

Grow physician partnerships.

Hackensack Meridian Health is comprised of 80 percent independent physicians who are part of the Hackensack Meridian Physician Alliance. Since Young joined Hackensack Meridian Health eight years ago, the number of participating physicians has grown from 350 to 4,600.

“I spend a fair amount of time meeting with community physicians to explain our network’s goals and objectives,” said Young. “By changing our contract terms, we made it viable for more independent physicians to join our program so we can enhance clinical alignment and collaboration.”

Expand community outreach and engagement.

With the goal of meeting the community’s healthcare needs, Hackensack Meridian Health has conducted 12,000 screenings so far in 2023 and has made 1.5 million referrals to community-based organizations.

“Four years ago, when we started our Social Determinants of Health program, we had to justify that this would make a difference,” said Young. “Today, it’s one of the hottest topics in health care, and we are on the leading edge in New Jersey — because we took the initiative to think about quality of life, not just health care.”

4. Spend time in the field.

To be an effective leader, Young believes executives need to understand how a business operates — including the issues, challenges and dynamics that are in play in the field.

“I’ve delivered oxygen tanks, gone out with home care dialysis nurses, rounded at the hospital and spent time with care managers,” said Young. “Being out in the field listening to and getting feedback from my team has helped us create a culture where people aren’t afraid to innovate together.”

5. Move into different business operations.

The culture at Hackensack Meridian Health allows team members to take risks and move forward — and that creates space for the organization to branch out in new ways.

Hackensack Meridian Health owns a 35-percent share of Braven Health, a $480 million Medicare Advantage plan serving 42,000 members across all counties in New Jersey. The Population Health team also expanded their Home Care division, a $160 million business that employs 900 team members, and plans to launch a partnership with a Boston-based company called Medically Home in 2024.

“We have a great foundation of safety, quality and financial stability that enables us to expand into other areas of health care,” said Young. “We believe that if we don’t do it, someone else will, and we welcome the opportunity to serve our community while paving the way for innovation on a larger scale.”

According to Young, these synergies are supercharged by the organization’s culture.

“Culture drives organizational behavior,” said Young. “We encourage our teams to collaborate, communicate, share information, address necessary changes in the operating model and innovate. As a result, we have team members who love what they do, because they know they are making a difference together.”