Steve Long: Positioning ourselves for growth

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First of two parts

“We are blessed to live in Hancock County.” This is a thought my wife and I frequently share with each other and our friends around the country. Although I am originally from Iowa, I have had the privilege of living and working across America in places ranging from Houston (MD Anderson Cancer Center), to Wisconsin (Aurora Healthcare) and even Washington, D.C. (United States Air Force). My wife was born in Japan to a military family that literally lived all over the world before settling in California. Then she joined the Air Force herself and traveled the world again. This range of experiences has given us a great benchmark to say that Greenfield (Hancock County) is the very best place we have ever lived!

You may ask why we would say that. Quite simply, it is exceptionally easy to live here. Everything we need on a daily basis is less than five minutes away, and everything we want is within 45 minutes (even Ikea and America’s top-rated airport!). Compared to other parts of the country, Indy traffic is light (if you have been to Chicago, D.C., Houston, or Los Angeles, you know this is true); and entertainment, sports, dining, and shopping options are incredible. Locally, taxes are low; housing is affordable; streets are safe; schools are excellent; and people are kind. When we moved here just over five years ago, folks routinely greeted us and said, “You are going to love it here!”

Perhaps because of these attributes, Hancock County is a high-growth area. Our county’s population has increased like clockwork 20% per decade since 1950, and it is reasonable to believe this rate will only increase in the future. “Is there data to support this,” you may wonder? In the state of Indiana, our county is in the top five for growth; McCordsville is among the five fastest-growing towns; and we have the fifth-highest average income. We have the fifth-highest, and the fastest-growing, concentration of scientists in the state. We are also No. 5 in terms of health status (funny how we are “top 5” for so many things!) Given all this, it is no wonder that we are seeing an influx of new businesses, and new residents, to our area, and this influx will drive even more growth in the years ahead.

The story that I am sharing with you is no surprise, and the board, associates and medical staff at Hancock Health have been pondering these statistics for quite some time. In late 2015, our hospital engaged a national health-care consulting company to help us answer two simple questions. First, what will be the impact of this growth on the need for health-care services in our county; and does Hancock Health need to position itself differently to serve this need? Second, our main campus is in Greenfield, but we have many services scattered around the city, located in leased properties. Should we consolidate these to a secondary campus in Greenfield that we would own, and if so, where should it be located?

After visiting the area, interviewing key individuals, delving into the data, and completing comparative analyses with other growing communities, the consultants answered our questions on growth very directly. First, they indicated the growth is real; is here to stay; and will drive the need for expanded health services. If Hancock Health does not meet the need, they told us, another health system will. Second, much of this growth would happen on the west side of our county, up and down the Mt. Comfort Road corridor. Third, the bulk of this growth will be young families seeking care in outpatient environments, and they will be very price-sensitive due to the high-deductible health plans their employers are providing.

While considering this feedback, our leadership team took the additional step of speaking with peers in other suburban health systems in the Indy metro area, where significant population growth has occurred in the past, to request their insights. At the top of all their lists was a wish that their predecessors had purchased land on transportation corridors nearest Marion County before large-scale development had occurred. They felt this lack of a footprint in those areas in the past impacted their ability to compete in the health-care marketplace in their counties today.

To learn more about the Hancock Health strategy built on this information, be sure to read Part 2 of this op-ed piece on Thursday, Dec. 19.

Steve Long is president and CEO of Hancock Health.