The Healthiest of Them All
Led by CEO Warner Thomas, Ochsner continues to dominate New Orleans’ booming healthcare industry.
In 2017 it was announced that Greater New Orleans is now No. 1 in the nation when it comes to healthcare job growth. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, the website STAT reported that between 2007 and 2017, 14,400 people were employed in the field in the metro area. By 2017, that number had ballooned to 25,700 — a 78 percent increase.
Research by GNO, Inc. anticipates this growth will only continue, putting the healthcare industry as the top sector for job growth in the region through 2026 thanks to an additional 19 percent increase.
Leading the industry in jobs and job creation is Ochsner Health System, Louisiana’s largest nonprofit health system.
Ochsner provides an economic impact of more than $1 billion to the region, and employs more than 18,000 people, including 1,100 physicians in more than 90 medical specialties and subspecialties and cares for patients from all 50 states and more than 80 countries worldwide each year. Additionally, more than 650 medical students, more than 275 residents and fellows, 160 advanced practice providers, 1,200 nursing students and 680 allied health students work and train in Ochsner’s system.
As president and CEO of Ochsner Health System, Warner Thomas is responsible for the overall strategic growth and development of the 30 system-owned, managed and affiliated hospitals, and more than 80 health centers and urgent care centers located throughout Southeast Louisiana, including Greater New Orleans, Slidell, Covington, Raceland and Baton Rouge.
Thomas joined Ochsner in 1998 as president and chief operating officer. He was promoted to his current position in 2012 after orchestrating Ochsner’s growth in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In the years since the storm, Ochsner has acquired six hospitals and developed strategic partnerships and affiliations with 22 others. In 2014, Thomas was appointed to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which advises Congress on issues affecting Medicare.
BEST ADVICE YOU'VE EVER RECEIVED?
"Stay in a place long enough to make a difference. Don’t job hop and move around. Sometimes people keep moving and searching for the next thing without making a difference."
Would you discuss Ochsner’s ongoing expansion?
We’re going through a time of pretty significant growth and it’s all related to the need for our services and the expansion of our patient base. Last year Ochsner took care of patients from every parish in Louisiana, every state in the U.S., and 86 countries from around the world. We’re a true destination center, and that demand for our services is driving a lot of our growth and expansion.
On Jefferson Highway, we’re expanding our west tower. That will add significant inpatient capacity and expand our transplant, neuroscience and cancer programs. We broke ground recently on an expansion of our Tom and Gayle Benson Cancer Center. We’ll double the size of our cancer center over the next couple of years. That is driven by the fact that we’re seeing more and more cancer patients, not just locally, but from around the entire Southeast, coming to Ochsner for cancer care. If you look back over the past seven years, we’ve had cancer patients from 49 of the 50 states come to the Tom and Gayle Benson Cancer Center. It’s really been a phenomenal center, and one that draws from a very large geographic area.
We’re also making a pretty significant investment in Baton Rouge — $100 million in micro-hospitals and significant outpatient services. That’s going to strengthen and deepen our position and commitment to the Baton Rouge market. We’re excited about that.
We’re going to open a large expansion on the North Shore. It’s all outpatient focused. It’s going to have primary care, neurosciences, sports medicine and a big rehabilitation component.
Also on the Jefferson Highway campus, back to New Orleans, at the intersection of Jefferson Highway and Causeway, we’re building a large post acute care center that will house all of the services our patients will need once they leave the general hospital but before they can go home – things like rehabilitation and skilled nursing services. That will open up in the middle of 2018.
We also have a variety of clinics in the region.
We have a new clinic that will be opened on Tchoupitoulas. We have a new clinic in Old Metairie. There’s a lot happening around the region.
The key is that this is all driven by the fact that over the past several years, we’ve continued to build the depth of our team and clinical resources, and our physician group has expanded. That has made all of the difference in now needing to have the facilities expansion. It’s not the other way around, where we’re building facilities and hope that we have the team to go with them. We’ve built an incredible team in all of our specialties. It’s driven by patients who want to have and seek their care at Ochsner.
DID YOU KNOW?
Ochsner has more than 90 medical specialties and sub-specialties, employs more than 18,000 employees, and has more than a $1 billion economic impact in the communities it serves.
What separates Ochsner from your competitors?
I think there are a few things.
One, Ochsner’s core is its group practice, which is the Ochsner Clinic. We have over 1,200 physicians in the Ochsner Clinic. It’s really part of the core that makes Ochsner different. Our approach to medicine is team oriented. It’s not about individuals, but a team. Whether it is our transplant center, cancer services, primary care, we’re about a team of physicians, nurses and social workers. We approach things in an extremely team-oriented environment. That’s driven from when Ochsner was started back in 1942 by five physicians that believed in the group practice of medicine.
I think the second thing is we’ve made a significant investment over the past decade in leadership development for our physicians and administrative leaders. We have, frankly, some of the best of the best leaders, myself excluded, in the business. I think that makes us different. It helps us execute better. It helps us take better care of patients and have a safer, more clinically improved environment. We often say we are not perfect at all, but we want to be perfect at getting better. We are relentless about getting better and that’s driven by the people and team here at Ochsner.
The third thing is that we have an amazing board. Our board and our governance is excellent. They do an amazing job helping to guide the vision and strategy of the organization. They’ve been supportive of Ochsner and our growth and development over the past decade-plus. They think big picture, and they challenge us to be the best that we can be. That’s both our community board members and also our physicians’ board. Having a strong board and governance is extremely important to the success of any organization.
BIGGEST LIFE LESSON YOU LEARNED?
"Give people the benefit of the doubt. You can do that in a number of ways. When you get into positions of leadership, it’s about giving people chances or opportunities or helping them through tough times. How people help people through adversity says a lot about who they are.
The other life lesson is I believe you learn a lot more about people when you go through rough times than when you go through easy times. It’s easy to lead when everything is going great. When it gets tough, that’s when you find out what people are made of."
"I like to bike and swim. I also like to travel."
FAVORITE TV SHOW?
(Left to Right) Dr. Marc Matrana, medical oncologist and medical director of the Precision Cancer Therapies Program; Anne Marie Miller, pediatrics unit director; Warner Thomas, CEO of Ochsner; S.K. Klein, supervisor of transplant social workers; Dr. Bridget Bagert, neurologist and director of the multiple sclerosis program.
Acquired MHM Urgent Care and Occupational Medicine Clinics
Opened Ochsner Health Center – Belle Meade in Gretna
Opened Ochsner Health Center for Children Pediatric Subspecialties – Houma at Terrebonne General Medical Center (TGMC). The clinic is a partnership between TGMC and Ochsner Hospital for Children.
Launched the Ochsner Precision Cancer Therapies Program at Ochsner Cancer Institute
Rebranded MHM Urgent Care to Ochsner Urgent Care
Opened Slidell Comprehensive Weight Loss Center, along with Slidell Memorial Hospital
Opened Ochsner Baton Rouge Cancer Center
Announced $100 million expansion includes newly- opened Ochsner Baton Rouge Cancer Center, development of a new Medical Office Building, Micro-Hospital and Surgical Center along the I-10 Bluebonnet/Siegen Corridor, and the expansion of several new clinics across multiple parishes. Anticipated completion date for the new Medical Office Building, Micro-Hospital and Surgical Center is scheduled for 2019.
Announced plans to lease the recently closed Louisiana Heart Hospital in St. Tammany Parish. Partnering with St. Tammany Parish Hospital and Slidell Memorial Hospital, the plan is to open a post-acute care hospital sometime in 2018 to include long-term acute care, skilled nursing and inpatient rehabilitation services.
Announced plans for Michael R. Boh Center for Child Development for children with neuro-muscular, or physical disabilities, and neuro-cognitive, behavioral and communication-related conditions such as autism. Expected to open early 2018 as part of Ochsner’s pediatric campus on Jefferson Highway.
Ochsner Health Care Denham Springs re-opened, provided access to primary care and specialty services after Aug. 2016 flooding.
Ochsner Medical Complex, River Parishes in LaPlace opened– 20,000 square-foot medical complex is part of a $30 million investment and three-year commitment to St. John the Baptist Parish
Opened new location on Metairie Road (Ochsner Health Center – Old Metairie)offers primary care services, including annual physicals, immunizations and chronic disease management, along with OB/GYN services.
Ochsner Baptist opened a Women’s Walk-In Care Clinic.
Opened new pediatric subspecialty clinic in Lafayette – part of a joint venture between Lafayette General Medical Center and Ochsner Hospital for Children.
Opened the Ochsner Clinical Simulation and Patient Safety Center, utilizing human patient simulators which mimic physiological functions of a real patient. Simulations include circumstances of trauma, labor and delivery, pediatric and premature neonatal patients.
Announced reopening of former MHM Urgent Care in Houma as Ochsner Terrebonne Urgent Care.
The St. Bernard Parish Hospital Service District Board approved a Strategic Partnership with Ochsner Health System to continue the day-to-day management of St. Bernard Parish Hospital (SBPH) which was implemented on Nov. 5. (Celebration was 11/20).
Broke ground on $20M expansion of Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center at Ochsner Medical Center — Jefferson Highway.
How is Ochsner embracing technology?
We made a significant investment six or seven years ago, and now have all of our hospitals and clinics on one electronic medical record (EMR). We’re really the only organization in the state that is fully implemented, fully integrated on one EMR. Many are trying to get there now, but we have certainly been an early adopter here in this region. That has created a backbone and an infrastructure of data and technology that we are building on.
We also built what we call Innovation Ochsner, which is building digital medicine capabilities in hypertension and diabetes care that help us think about how we interact with our patients in a very consumer-oriented way. We now book about 300,000 of our patient appointments online. We get over 800,000 electronic messages each year from our patients that we answer electronically.
We are very tech-oriented. We use it to provide a better experience for our patients. All of our information is electronic, and for patients on our patient portal it’s all completely transparent to them. They can look at any of their clinical information at any time. I think we’re doing some groundbreaking things in digital medicine.
How would you describe the state of health care in the United States?
I think the state of health care in the United States is very challenging, and it’s going to continue to be more challenging going forward. There are a couple of phenomena that are driving that.
One is there are significant regulatory changes at the federal level, and that is impacting reimbursement for programs like Medicare. It could, and likely will, impact funding of the Medicaid program, which is so important to every state in the U.S.
The second piece is with the aging of our population we see more and more folks aging into Medicare programs and governmental reimbursement, which is significantly less. Every hospital in America gets paid less for a Medicare patient than a commercial patient. That is creating significant economic challenges for hospitals. I think you’ll see a lot of pressure on hospitals going forward given the changes at the federal level.
How would you describe the general health care landscape in Greater New Orleans? What are our biggest challenges?
They’re the same. All of the issues that we see at the federal level impact every organization in New Orleans and this region. You’re seeing organizations being challenged with all the change. Some, like ours, are embracing it more than others. Our motto is ‘You have to make change work for you and not fight change.’ I think because of that we’re able to take on many of the challenges with an optimistic attitude and work through them. The environment is challenging. But at the same time it’s exciting because it’s driving a lot of change, new thinking, and encouraging relationships that we’ve never seen before.
In the last year we announced a significant partnership with Blue Cross to build insurance products together and take them to market. I don’t think that would have happened two, three, four years ago. With this increasing change in health care we’re seeing a lot of innovation and new ideas. I think that’s exciting.
"'Good to Great' was a pretty amazing book."
"I’m not real big on dealing with folks who are arrogant, not down to earth, fake, or mean to people. We never know what someone is going through until you walk in their shoes, and I think sometimes we’re way too judgmental and we don’t understand what someone’s situation is all about."
Ochsner’s main campus on Jefferson Highway was recognized by the 2017 CareChex awards as the No. 1 hospital in Louisiana for 12 specialties.• Bariatric Surgery
• Cancer Care
• Gastrointestinal Care
• GI Hemorrhage (#9 In The Nation)
• General Surgery
• Interventional Carotid Care
• Neurological Care
• Neurological Surgery (#4 In The Nation)
• Organ Transplants (#1 In The Nation)
• Pneumonia Care
• Heart Transplant
• Liver Transplant (#1 in the nation)
What best practices are there for businesses to better control their employee health care costs?
We have nearly 20,000 people on our employee health plan and our medical costs the past couple of years have been essentially flat. We do things like coordinating our care, incentivizing our employees to take care of themselves with pathway to wellness programs. We do a lot on the prevention side. We’re constantly focused on making sure our people are getting their annual physicals, screenings and getting appropriate and timely check-ups.
What is your business philosophy?
Make something better than when you found it, and make a difference in what you do everyday.
At Ochsner, we’re here to take care of patients. We focus every day on making a difference in people’s lives, changing and saving lives, and really trying to improve the situation we’ve inherited. If you keep that in your mindset and you keep that in front of you it allows you to deal with a lot of the challenges and really understand why you’re here and what you’re trying to accomplish.
What qualities do you look for in candidates for your management team?
I look for people who are optimistic, curious, good leaders, and, probably most important, focused on and make it a priority to develop the team around them.
I find the people that have been through challenges and know how to persevere, problem solve, think and deal with adversity well — those are the types of people we tend to look for. In today’s world, it’s more and more adverse, and a leader’s ability to deal with that adversity, keep the right attitude, motivate those around them, and problem solve is critical to their success.
How do you manage stress and balance work and family life?
That’s certainly a challenge. For any leader it’s difficult. I try to make sure that I take the appropriate time off and make sure I spend the right amount of time with my family. I like to travel and get out of town with them. I also have a very disciplined approach to keep myself healthy. I exercise every day. I probably miss maybe four or five days of exercise a year. It’s part of my ability to stay sharp and a great stress reliever as well. Exercise is a critical part of my routine. It gives me time to think and problem solve. I think it’s important for anybody to stay active. To keep an active mind, you’ve got to have an active body.