Summit Health is a prominent health care provider. The Berkeley Heights-based company has more than 340 locations in five states. CityMD, which Summit acquired two years ago, is a major urgent care provider in the New York metro area and has been growing quickly.
Jeff Alter took over as Summit Health’s CEO last October and is continuing the expansion path that his predecessor, Jeffrey LeBenger, was committed to.
NJBIZ recently spoke with Alter about those plans and how the company intends to execute them. He also discussed the company’s philosophy of health care and what the pandemic looks like now.
“Not to jinx us, but I’ll knock on wood that we seem to be well beyond that surge we all had to deal with during the holiday season,” he said. “It put a burden, particularly on our urgent care network of CityMDs and we are beginning to see some normal volume come back to our Summit Health multi-specialty practices. People are trying to get the care that they need, and I think that’s a good sign.”
What follows is an abridged version of that discussion. The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity. A video of the complete interview is available at njbiz.com/njbizconversations.
NJBIZ: I spoke to your predecessor on several occasions, and we talked a lot about the expansion plans at the company which back then sounded fairly aggressive. I’m curious whether those plans are still in place, whether you’re proceeding with them, or if they’ve changed at all?
Jeff Alter: We believe we have a real opportunity to change the way that health care is delivered, particularly in this marketplace and maybe in others. The CityMd location network is also a big part of that connected care model that we’re building. I would say we’ve got a little bit of a tale of two cities. We’ve got exceptional multispecialty practices in New Jersey. We’re going to build some more CityMDs to support that connected care model in New Jersey, and as we look into New York, Long Island, the southern Connecticut market, we need to build that multi-specialty footprint.
Our acquisition of Westmed [Medical Group] is, I think, an example of that geography expansion. Our New Jersey Urology [deal] was really trying to fill in the gap — we needed more men’s health programs and urology and some of the prostate cancer programs so that was New Jersey Urology.
We just closed on an acquisition last week in the New York marketplace on Long Island for about 40 primary care physicians, so we’re beginning to build out that primary care and multi-specialty practice. We built two new locations in New York City over the last six months — one up on the Upper West Side and one in the Union Square area, so we continue those expansion plans in both a mix of de novo build-out as well as some acquisitions where we see geographic need or capability.
Details on two Summit Health deals
Two of the deals Jeff Alter discussed with NJBIZ occurred in recent months – the partnerships with Westmed Medical Group and New Jersey Urology.
After the deals, Westmed CEO Anthony Viceroy became president and chief operating officer of Summit Health, while NJU President Dr. Martin Goldstein came on as chief of urology for the provider.
“An important lesson of this pandemic is how vital it is to expand access to care. The addition of Westmed and NJU enables Summit Health to meet the needs of even more patients through our highly connected care model,” Alter said at the time. “Health care remains a local phenomenon and this expansion will help show that the more we can develop a long-standing relationship with a patient – however they enter our network – the better we can deliver positive outcomes and manage quality care while controlling costs.”
Multispecialty medical practice Westmed has locations in Westchester County, N.Y. and Fairfield County, Conn. New Jersey Urology has more than 50 locations in the Garden State in addition to offices in Pennsylvania.
According to the company, both will initially continue to operate under their current names as “A Summit Health Company.”
NJU’s addition, in particular, enhances Summit’s urologic services while complementing its cancer care options. According to a statement from Goldstein, NJU brings more than 150 urologists, radiation and medical oncologists, and clinicians to Summit Health.
Summit Health’s connected care model brings together primary, specialty and urgent care across the New York-metro area. Its newest partnerships, according to the network, will create more opportunities to expand into adjacent areas.
Q: You touched on a couple of things I wanted to get to. But first just the model that you mentioned, the connected care model, can you just explain what that is and how it works?
A: When we look at the way health care is delivered and particularly my background of 25 years on the payor side, the fragmentation to health care is where the issues happen for our patients, and we believe the more that we can make that journey connected and engaged into the same system and the same platform, getting our patients to the best hospitals if that’s what they need for that service — we often say we are hospital agnostic. We work with all hospitals to get our patients into the best programs for them, and those needs. But connecting all of the disparate health care silos is really key, we believe, to keeping people healthier, getting them healthier, and providing value to the system at a lower cost with a better outcome for our patients.
Q: And you mentioned a couple of locations in New York City, I remember that geographical area being a main focus. Obviously, it sounds like one where you figure there’s a growth opportunity.
A: We think there’s a large growth opportunity there, particularly with the footprint of CityMD and those referral patterns that come into our CityMD locations. That’s probably our most density … and we would really like to be able to service all those referral needs inside our connected care model.
Q: You mentioned the urology acquisition — Are there other specialty areas you’re looking at, or do you see other gaps that you need to fill at this point?
A: I think in the New Jersey market New Jersey Urology did fill a pretty big gap. We continue to want to invest in primary care as well, so that is another area where we’re trying out a new model of primary care that gives our primary care physicians more time with patients and gives us the ability to link in virtual care and other things, to keep those patients connected to their primary care physician and getting the services that they need when they need them.
Q: OK and you’ve mentioned a few acquisitions. Do mergers and acquisitions remain a big part of your strategy? Is that where your expansion is going to come from? Or are you looking for partnerships or organic growth or a combination of all three?
A: I would say I would love it to be balanced — a third partnerships, acquisitions, de novo. We have to do more around partnerships and we’re working on that now, so I would say we’re probably 30 or 40% de novo. All of our CityMDs are de novo. A lot of our primary care spaces will be, and these two new builds in New York, where we just started builds in Garden City and Rockville Centre. And then we’ll balance that with mergers and acquisitions. But ideally I’d like to get to more partnerships and we’re working on those right now.Q: Getting back just briefly to the pandemic — and only tangentially — because COVID-19 sort of highlighted some real gaps and real vulnerabilities in the health care system, particularly with lack of access to health care in vulnerable communities. Where do you see the responsibility for improving that lies? Is it something that government has to do? Insurers? Health care providers like yourself? Or the big hospital systems? What can be done at this point to close the gaps that we saw?
A: I think it has to be a partnership across the payor community, the provider community – the willingness to put services in those most vulnerable markets, that’s one of the founding tenets of CityMD – access in all neighborhoods to everyone was part of the model. And in many cases during the pandemic – in the South Bronx, parts of Brooklyn, other parts of the Bronx – we were the only access point for those populations. But it will take cooperation and coordination with governmental agencies that continues to push the needed change for access.
The understanding of social determinants of health, how that causes some of this – the lack of health care or lack of health for some vulnerable parts of our population. We are committed, we have been from the beginning, and we have a foundation that primarily works on social determinants of health. But you’ll see more and more of our locations being built in those in those areas as well.
Q: OK, two things there that I want to get into a little more. First of all on the social determinants issue, I’ve had a lot of conversations with health care CEOs at some of the big hospitals and hospital systems and that’s a huge focus for them. And it’s interesting to me to hear that it’s a focus for you. You mentioned the foundation, what does that entail what kind of work are you doing in that regard?
A: We’re looking at two things — access to health care, but also healthy food. … One thing I still remember from graduate school is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If we’re asking people to be somewhere, but they still don’t have basic food, they don’t have shelter, they don’t have enough money, they’re not going to get to the point where they care about their health. We’ve got to get them out of that first phase of hierarchy of needs, so that they really are looking at their weight. They’re looking at their blood pressure. They’re looking at their cholesterol. They’re looking at the things that we know we can control, and then we know when they’re controlled people live longer, healthier lives.
Q: OK. And do you feel like you have the contacts in the community to do that? Do you have a presence in enough communities to make an impact?
A: We do. We’re getting there. We would like to have more; we’re working on that now post-pandemic, because we were just really trying to deal with the volume at CityMD. But we really want CityMD to be thought of as a neighborhood care place and the place that you can start your health care journey, but also that can be there for those episodic needs that you have when you need them.