Rulon Stacey is stepping into the top post at Fairview Health Service at a key time. The health care organization, one of the Twin Cities' largest, has seen a period of internal turmoil and controversy even as federal health reform efforts layer on new uncertainties.
The tall and soft-spoken Utah native said his first priority will be to build on Fairview's strengths and get back to basics. A jewel in the health care system's crown, he says, is the University of Minnesota Medical Center, which Fairview has operated since 1997.
Fairview also operates five community hospitals and 40 primary-care clinics as well as pharmacies, senior services and home-care services.
Stacey comes to Fairview after managing a merger between Colorado's Poudre Valley Health System, which he led for 16 years, and the University of Colorado Health.
His experience running a combined academic health center appealed to the Fairview board of directors, which has wrangled with controversy in recent years — from the 2012 resignation if its CEO over a scandal involving debt collectors to last year's contentious public hearings with the state attorney general that broke off merger talks with Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health.
Stacey took over as chief executive on Nov. 4.
Q: Last May, Fairview and the University of Minnesota agreed on a new, combined management structure to share revenue. The agreement came after years of wrangling. How will you approach this relationship?
A: We agreed to do in writing what we should do anyway, which is to create a new, integrated structure.
Our greatest asset is having an affiliation with the University of Minnesota Medical Center and the University of Minnesota physicians.
Along with the benefits of an academic medical system, it brings with it massive responsibility of research and education. We know National Institutes for Health dollars are not increasing.
Our goal in this increasingly competitive market environment is to make sure people going to our clinic in Hibbing or at Fairview Southdale Hospital know about that relationship with the university.
Q: Administration and physicians have at times felt they are working at cross purposes. How will you mend fences?
A: Part of my job is politics. It's getting out and seeing people. I'm spending a lot of time getting to know this organization. We've got 22,000 employees, 2,500 physicians and thousands of volunteers. It's hard to distrust someone you know.
My vision is to create common look and thought throughout the system and create a sense of familiarity. One of my jobs is to create mechanisms for physicians and staff to work on the same problem together, with standard outcomes. I choke over comparisons with industry averages. We need to be the best in the world.
Q: Fairview has had its share of difficulties in recent years, with billing practices and relationships with the university physicians. How can you restore faith?
A: I know what the recent past is. I know concerns with community. I'm going to get out there, make them comfortable that I know what I'm doing — and I'll never lie to them.
But in the end, it's all about better outcomes. My goal is to make is easier for those to access the system so they'd never think of going anywhere else because we've got the best care in the world.
Q: How will the Affordable Care Act affect operations?
A: It's unfortunate that the business and politics of health care have gotten so intermixed that it's impossible to separate them. The ACA is here because the public wants higher care at a lower cost. Right now, the conversation is all about problems with the exchanges, but if you look three or five years down the road, we'll have more people with insurance, more people paying for our services. But there are narrower networks for patients that could reduce their choices.
On the business side, we have to lower costs but no one will settle for a minute if we lowered care. The future model is for payers and providers to collaborate more. Fairview has long been a leader in that area.
We will continue to look beyond any public policy measures. Because there is so much gridlock that if we look to answers in Washington, we'll be spinning our wheels. The answers are in the Twin Cities.
Q: You've been here long enough to have made it through some of our famous below-zero days. What do you think of Minnesota?
A: Minnesotans whine too much about the weather! I spent five years in Leadville, Co., I think I'll be able to stand Minnesota winters. We've bought a house here and my family will all be here in January. We're looking forward to getting to know the area.