Value-based care … convergence of providers and payers … clinically integrated systems of care. These are some of the future-focused topics discussed by Robert J. Henkel, FACHE, Executive Vice President, Ascension, and President and Chief Executive Officer, Ascension Health, in “Viewpoint,” a publication of the Scottsdale Institute.

The Scottsdale Institute is a not-for-profit membership organization of prominent healthcare systems whose goal is to support members as they move forward to achieve clinical integration and transformation through information technology.

“Employers, payers, and the government all wish to reduce risk,” Henkel says. “We’ve been assembling an infrastructure of complementary assets aimed at three major goals: One, finance the risk; two, underwrite and process the risk; three, manage the risk. Ascension is putting these pieces together not just to manage risk but to improve the well-being of communities while decreasing costs.”

Henkel says some of those pieces are Ascension Risk Services and last year’s acquisition by Ascension of U.S. Health Holdings, an insurer licensed in 20 states that brings Ascension actuarial competencies, claims processing and underwriting.

He also talks about partnerships with Blue Cross of Tennessee and Michigan, and other options, to build the ability to work directly with employers to provide value-based care.

“Our first priority is to work with our own employees and their families, which today amounts to 300,000 covered lives,” he says. “We want the capability to underwrite risk, which was behind our acquisition of U.S. Health Holdings. We likely will develop multiple approaches. We’re using a variety of structures, but we’re large enough to try different models and learn from them.”

Ascension’s strategy to build clinically integrated systems of care means not networks or buildings in the conventional sense, but rather, creating systems from the perspective of personalized care, he says.

“How do people want to be cared for? When we talk to them they say they want coordination and the ability to know people, the ability to connect with them,” Henkel says. “In some of our markets we have hospitals, home care and primary care but we may not have the social connections of care that Catholic Charities has, for example. We want to find the right mix of social benefits. We want to get away from the word ‘discharged.’ We’re looking to establish person-to-person relationships that allow us to give those we serve the right care for them.”

He cites two examples of new types of partnerships that Ascension has engaged in recently. In the Chicago area, Ascension’s Alexian Brothers Health System and Adventist Midwest Health have created a joint venture call AMITA Health. AMITA brings together physicians, acute care, all diagnostics and behavioral health. “In these ventures, one plus one is more than two,” he says. Another example is in Tucson, Arizona, where Ascension has joined with Tenet Healthcare and Dignity Health to create a new, evolved Carondelet Health Network. “We’re a minority shareholder in Carondelet, which is bringing together Tucson and Phoenix into an integrated system of care.” he says.