Ochsner, Christus Health leaders say joint venture will focus on physician recruitment, telemedicine

New Orleans-based Ochsner Health System and Irving, Texas-based Christus Health have finalized a joint venture agreement for Ochsner to become a minority member of Christus Health Southwestern Louisiana.

Under the agreement, Christus Health will manage Christus Ochsner St. Patrick and Christus Ochsner Lake Area hospitals in Lake Charles, La. Ochsner will manage all physician and clinic operations within the 13 Lake Charles area clinics.

Both health systems said the joint venture will focus on clinical service expansion and physician recruitment to improve access to care, as well as expanding telemedicine offerings and capabilities.

"Christus Health has played a pivotal role in delivering healthcare to the residents of southwest Louisiana for 110 years, and we look forward very much to the partnership," said Jeff Puckett, executive vice president and COO of Christus Health. "We're very excited about the synergy we believe it will create for the residents of Lake Charles for years to come."

Warner Thomas, president and CEO of Ochsner Health System, also expressed excitement about the joint venture, which took effect Sept. 1.

"We've had a partnership with Christus for several years and look forward to building on that partnership with this new joint venture," he said.

Here, Mr. Puckett and Mr. Thomas discuss the goals of the joint venture in greater detail.

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Question: What makes the joint venture unique?

Jeff Puckett: One of the differences here is this is a joint venture that is structured to capture as much of the synergy from the strengths of the two partners, perhaps a little bit more than you might see [with other industry partnerships], with Ochsner managing and leading the physician group practices and Christus leading the hospital side. That might be something that's not as common [in the industry], and I think the goal there is to maximize the strength of the two organizations.

Warner Thomas: Many times, you're seeing partnerships between organizations where one is more significant in an area versus the other. If you look at Ochsner and Christus, we're both very significant organizations. We both have great national reputations. I think the opportunity to come together on a project like this is unique and also builds on the work we've been doing [together].

Q: You cite the ability to recruit physicians as a beneficial part of this joint venture. Has physician recruitment been a big problem in the Lake Charles region and how might this help?

JP: Lake Charles is a mid-sized community. The challenges in any community this size with a backdrop of a competitive physician recruitment situation in the United States is to create a compelling reason for physicians to move to our community. I think the partnership we have created with Ochsner will make a big difference on that because it offers such a compelling place to practice with the scale that Ochsner functions. The size and depth of the physician group is so different than what we have historically had in place in Lake Charles, and the rich legacy and the range of specialties at OHS is going to create a very compelling, persuasive situation for physicians who are looking at becoming part of the group.

WT: It's difficult to recruit physicians around the country. I think we've been fortunate at Ochsner to be able to recruit many physicians to not just New Orleans but really the whole region. By the end of this year, we'll have about 1,400 physicians in the Ochsner Clinic and about another 700 advanced practice clinicians. I think part of the partnership is to have Ochsner work collaboratively with Christus Health to recruit more physicians to the area. There's been a lot of growth in Lake Charles, so there's a tremendous demand for services here. [The systems will] work in collaboration with the community physicians that are here, but if there are gaps from a specialty perspective, we certainly want to work together to make sure we can fill those.

Q: How will telemedicine expansion play a role in the joint venture?

WT: We've had a relationship with Christus Health for many years in telemedicine, starting with stroke neurology services around the state, not just in Lake Charles but at other Christus locations as well. Christus in Alexandria, [La.], is actually our first hub for our telestroke services. We're adding other disciplines and pediatric subspecialties, psychiatry [to that as well]. We're looking at high-risk obstetrics, and I think those would be offerings we could provide in Lake Charles and also other areas in the region.


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