The corner office: Dr. Howard Grant of Lahey Health on the passion and intellect of Boston

"I was specifically drawn to Boston because Massachusetts was leading the way in health care reform, ahead of the game in universal healthcare and committed to accelerating toward widespread accountable care and population health. It was enormously appealing that the Commonwealth decided to take on the challenge."

Howard Grant, MD, JD, joined Burlington, Mass.-based Lahey Clinic as president and CEO in November 2010 and then led the clinic through a merger with Northeast Health System which formed Lahey Health in May 2012. As a result of the merger, Lahey Clinic was renamed Lahey Hospital & Medical Center while the physician group retained the name "Lahey Clinic Physicians."

Dr. Grant joined healthcare first as a clinician, but entered the management ranks fairly early in his career at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. In addition to serving as a staff pediatrician, Dr. Grant directed quality assurance, risk management and utilization management programs as well as the development and management of home care programs. Prior to joining Lahey, Dr. Grant was with Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pa., where he served as executive vice president and CMO.

Now CEO of Lahey Health, Dr. Grant oversees 848 beds across five hospitals, an array of non-hospital services, 1,400 employed and affiliated physicians and approximately 15,000 employees.

Dr. Grant earned both his medical and law degrees from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and completed his pediatrics residency at CHOP. He lives in greater Boston with his wife, Suzanne Reiss, MD, who is a child and adolescent psychiatrist, and has three grown children and one grandchild.

Here, Dr. Grant took the time to answer Becker's Hospital Review's seven questions.Dr Grant photo

What's one thing that really piqued your interest in healthcare?

There were two main things. The first was my mother's illness, which eventually led to her passing away while I was in college. The care she received at a very reputable academic health center was disjointed. There was inadequate communication between many of the clinicians and members of our family, discharge planning following hospitalizations was confusing and there was inconsistent communication between treating clinicians. There was one oncologist who tackled all these obstacles and was inspirational to my mother as a patient and to every member of our family. I will never forget the impression he made on me — how an individual can have a profoundly positive impact on a patient and family during the most painful and fragile time in their lives.

The other thing that piqued my interest was an internship in law school working with the public defender service in a federal psychiatric hospital. I was overwhelmed by the meager services available to people with mental illness. That experience prompted me to talk with leadership at the medical school to explore the combination a legal and medical career, which was uncommon at the time. They gave me a lot of encouragement to pursue parallel tracks.

What do you enjoy most about the Boston area?

My wife and I have enjoyed the intellectual vitality of the Boston area. There are so many spectacular universities, cultural activities and world-class health care institutions — and the fact that eastern Massachusetts is a technology hub — creates an unbelievably vibrant environment. There is endless innovation all around us.

Also, I was specifically drawn to Boston because Massachusetts was leading the way in health care reform, ahead of the game in universal healthcare and committed to accelerating toward widespread accountable care and population health. It was enormously appealing that the Commonwealth decided to take on the challenge.

If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry's problems overnight, which would it be?

I think the challenges we have in caring for patients with behavioral health and mental health problems need to be confronted head on. We have to do a better job of integrating behavioral health services into primary care settings. It is unconscionable that there are so many people with mental health and other behavioral health problems who do not receive appropriate care. Sixty percent of patients with behavioral health diagnoses never receive care for their condition. Half of the patients who do get care receive it from a primary care physician.

Primary care providers do not usually have the tools or resources in their offices, time or formal training that they need to provide superb behavioral healthcare. So those conditions are not optimally diagnosed or managed. And patients who have chronic medical conditions as well as a behavioral health diagnosis have a much higher overall cost of care than average. So when you talk about ways we can bend the cost curve while enhancing quality of care and provider satisfaction, you can see it is critically important to make rational investments in more behavioral health services and make sure providers are fairly compensated for delivering those services. That is a primary focus for Lahey Health right now.

What do you consider your greatest talent or skill outside of the C-suite?

My father was renowned in his professional world for his mentoring of younger employees. I also love to do that inside and outside the organization in order to assist people early in their careers to understand the most productive and gratifying paths for them and strategies for broadening their skills and experiences. I make it a point to strongly encourage a healthy balance between work and personal lives, and prod everyone whom I mentor to tend to their own physical and mental health. I frequently make myself available to young physicians early in their careers who are unsure of the direction they want to take over the long term. I have had spectacular mentors in each organization where I have worked, and believe it is a responsibility of leadership to contribute in this fashion to those who follow.

How do you revitalize yourself?

I'm consistent in that regard and fiercely protect my time outside of work with my family and friends. My wife is my best friend, partner and confidant and psychiatrist — she is a child psychiatrist. I spend time with her, our kids and our first grandchild.

And I am equally devoted to making sure I exercise often. On most days I exercise more than once, and in my office I have a set of 20 lbs dumbbells and an elliptical.

The stresses of the job are intense and relentless, as there is a ton of pressure on a day-to-day basis on how we make decisions. I know it has significant emotional and physical consequences for everyone involved. It's reassuring to know I'm doing everything I can to refresh myself.

What's one piece of advice you remember most clearly?

I learned this from my father when I was 9 years old. Our neighbor had been fired from his job for the fourth time, and I asked my dad why our neighbor gets fired so many times. My dad said, "Because he's not a nice man. If you treat people with dignity and respect and you are kind to them all of the time, everyone will benefit. You will always be better off, your family and the people with whom you work, if you treat people kindly and respectfully all the time."

My dad had such an impact on everyone he met and it was because he treated them with genuine kindness. It served him well and served them well. That's the best piece of advice I've gotten.

What do you consider your greatest achievement at Lahey Health so far?

When I got here four years ago, and it was clear that Massachusetts was going to become a very competitive marketplace, we spent a lot of time in the organization trying to understand what our position in the future should look like. Lahey had historically been the recipient of referrals from outside the community, and we were less focused on strategy to provide care in community settings close to where patients live.

When we created the Lahey Health system two years ago, the governing body made a commitment to do everything it could to keep patients as close to home as possible, enhancing quality, making care more convenient and lowering the cost of care. That has been adopted across the organization, actively managing everyday strategies to make sure patients receive the right care in the place at the right time. That is something you hear frequently around the country, organizations talking about pursuing that course, but we're doing it and have data to demonstrate what we've accomplished.

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