New Frontiers of Health: A Partners in Care Interview Series with Elaine Batchlor, MD, MPH, Founding CEO at Martin Luther King Jr., Community Hospital
PART ONE OF THREE: “I grew up in the L.A. medical community and it felt like that was where I belonged. They were the people that I knew, they were the people that I had something in common with, and I just really love L. A.”
Partners in Care Foundation will present the Vision & Excellence in Healthcare Leadership Award to Elaine Batchlor, MD, MPH at its upcoming 20th Annual Tribute Dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills on Monday, June 3, 2019.
Dr. Batchlor serves as Chief Executive Officer of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital (MLKCH) a state-of-the-art safety net hospital that provides compassionate, quality care to the South Los Angeles community.
It is her pioneering work as founding CEO of MLKCH that brought Dr. Batchlor to the Award Selection Committee’s attention. With excellence embedded as a core value, Dr. Batchlor insisted that MLKCH provide not just good care, but quality care equal to that found in hospitals in more affluent areas. Her diverse background in medicine, public health, health policy and healthcare administration are all evident in the innovative and collaborative approaches used by the hospital to meet their historically-underserved community’s needs.
Partners in Care Foundation sat down with Dr. Batchlor for a conversation about her background, interests, and career path. We’re pleased to share her observations in anticipation of the upcoming Tribute Dinner, where she will be recognized with this prestigious award in recognition of her work.
My interest in medicine started when I was a young girl. I read a book about St. Luke, who was a physician. That whet my interest in medicine, and in school – the combination of science, healing, and social advocacy really excited me. So did the history of medicine and healthcare, how the healthcare system evolved, how it worked, and how it didn’t work. I studied those topics in college, and they have stayed with me through the years.
In medical school I was attracted to the science of internal medicine and the specialty of rheumatology. You really had to think about what was going on with those patients and what you were going to do to help them. It meant collecting information and then synthesizing an approach to treatment. I liked the idea that you develop an ongoing relationship with your patients.
Rheumatology is based on the science of immunology, which is very interesting. Patients with rheumatologic diseases are generally people with chronic illnesses that don’t go away. Much of what you do is help those patients manage their illnesses over time. I find them to be stoic and inspiring in the way they cope with their circumstances.
I spent five years in post-graduate training, first, in internal medicine, and then rheumatology. Upon finishing the rheumatology program, I took a job teaching at UCLA in the rheumatology department which allowed me to do research, some teaching and practice rheumatology. During that time, I also earned a degree in public health.
Following UCLA, I landed my first health care administrator job with the Ross-Loos Medical Group, which was a staff model HMO and part of the Cigna Health Plan. I oversaw the outpatient healthcare centers and medical group. From there, I went to work for a network model HMO. Then, with Prudential, I worked for a few years as a medical director. And then, I spent about eight months as medical director for LA’s county office of managed care.
After those administrative jobs, I had the opportunity to do something different. I was recruited to Oakland by the California Healthcare Foundation. The Foundation was focused on improving the delivery of healthcare in California, especially financing and organization. The people working there were bright and talented, with resources and connections. During that time, I was able to develop relationships with a variety of healthcare leaders from across the state, while studying and speaking about healthcare issues.
The time at the California HealthCare Foundation took me back to my long-standing interest in the organization of healthcare as a system and gave me a platform to observe how it worked from more of a 300-foot level.
A lot of what I was doing there was shedding light on how various aspects of the healthcare system functioned and identifying opportunities for improvement. One area was work force development. Nursing was, and is, a concern, and we were looking at supply versus demand, effectiveness of the education system, areas for improving nurse training, and alignment of supply with demand. We did some work related to the pharmaceutical industry, and around both hospital and provider financial performance and sustainability.
Much of this work was informed by insights gained during my training at Harbor-UCLA, where I was able to experience first-hand how the care was organized and how the delivery system operated. And, how safety net care worked and didn’t work for multiple populations. Those experiences led to strong opinions, but they kept me interested in health services, and continued my interest in how the healthcare system is operated and organized.
After a few years working in Oakland, I was introduced to the CEO of Los Angeles Care Health Plan, Howard Khan. We hit it off immediately, and he offered me a job as Chief Medical Officer for the Plan. It turned out to be a very good move.
I grew up in the Los Angeles medical community and it felt like that was where I belonged. They were the people that I knew, they were the people that I had something in common with, and I just really love Los Angeles. I love the scale of Los Angeles. I love the diversity of Los Angeles. I love the culture of Los Angeles.
Working for a foundation is fun. You get to meet a lot of smart people. You get to work on interesting issues. But going to work for L. A. Care was an opportunity to direct programs that would improve healthcare. It put me closer to where the hands-on work is done. And that was a big part of the job’s attraction. Everything I had done prior to joining L.A. Care had an impact on my thinking and approach. Working in the trenches of the county health system for five years; having gone to school and earned a degree in public health; having spent five years looking at healthcare from a system perspective. All that influenced how I thought about things, and what I decided to do when I landed at L.A. Care.
Some of the first things that I did after joining were purely practical and focused on improving healthcare for the Plan’s members. Everything from pursuing accreditation for the health plan, quality accreditation for the plan, and raising the bar for provider performance. Measuring their performance, incentivizing their performance. Operating a regional extension center to help providers adopt information technology. Those were the things that I did while there.
I’m proud to say we were able to improve quality and performance for the Plan’s members. Once we have the metrics in place, we were able to follow the metrics. We were able to move a significant number of providers onto electronic health record systems to get them to start doing quality management and improvement in their practices. So, I had a very definite sense of progress and achievement while there.
Part two of this three-part series will be published in February 2019.
For information on sponsorship opportunities and tickets to the 20th Annual Vision & Excellence in Health Care Leadership Tribute Dinner, please visit our Sponsorships, Advertisements, & Tickets section on our Tribute Dinner Page or contact:
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Sponsorship Recognition in Tribute Dinner Invitation Deadline: March 1, 2019
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