Market Review: Vast health care sector sets Louisville apart

Region’s wellness, aging companies pay $4 billion in payroll, account for $500 billion in revenue

By Abby Laub

Norton Healthcare and Jefferson County Public Schools have partnered to provide a new school-based telemedicine program that allows students to be seen by a provider from their school nurse’s office using teleconferencing technology.

You can tell people by the company they keep, and a region by the companies it keeps. In the case of health care – which includes medical services, lifelong wellness and aging care – Louisville is in better company than anyone else in the nation.

“Companies like Humana, Kindred Healthcare, Almost Family (now LHC), Pharmerica, and ResCare (now BrightSpring) got their start and are headquartered in Louisville,” said David Buschman, managing director of Greater Louisville Inc.’s Health Enterprises Network. “These companies have created a knowledge center and culture of innovation that attracted companies like Atria, Signature and Trilogy to create the nation’s largest concentration of headquarters operations.”

He added that Louisville is now home to more lifelong wellness and aging care headquarters than any other MSA in the nation, an asset that sets Louisville apart from other health care markets. Buschman said there are 4,100 health-related establishments in the Louisville Metro and collectively, and they employ more than 124,000 people with an annual payroll over $4 billion and account for $50 billion in revenue.

“Health care is the region’s largest employer, accounting for 18.2% of all jobs,” he said. “Between 2006 and 2017, health care sector employment increased 22.3%.”

Massive growth and innovation

A big factor in these numbers is Norton Healthcare, which continues to grow. The hospital and health care system is Louisville’s fourth largest employer, providing care at more than 250 locations throughout Kentucky and Southern Indiana. It includes five Louisville hospitals and more than 14,600 employees. A strong research program provides access to clinical trials, with 850-plus clinical studies underway. In 2018 Norton Healthcare was named by Healthiest Employers as the fourth healthiest place to work in the country.

“Our payroll and purchases of supplies and services total around $1.7 billion each year,” said Michael W. Gough, executive vice president and chief operating officer. “As a not-for-profit, we have a commitment to improving the health of our community and provide funding for many services that benefit the public. In 2018, our total contribution was valued at more than $165 million, including $105 million in charity care and unpaid Medicaid cost for patients who couldn’t afford to pay.”


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The success of Greater Louisville’s medical services scene can be attributed to this compassionate outlook, but also to its top notch workforce and innovation.

A recent example is Talaris Therapeutics Inc., formerly known as Regenerex LLC, a company born at the University of Louisville. In April 2019 it announced it had raised $100 million from investors to develop a therapy, based on UofL research, that could improve the lives of kidney transplant recipients. It is using technology developed at UofL to allow living donor kidney transplant recipients to stay off immunosuppression drugs for the rest of their lives.

Another UofL researcher, virologist Dr. Donghoon Chung, is one of three principal investigators with a new center working to advance new drugs for the treatment of equine encephalitis viruses in humans. The project, Center of Excellence for Encephalitic Alphavirus Therapeutics, is funded by a $21 million grant from the National Institutes of Health over five years.

The innovation extends beyond patient care and includes industry distributors and pharmaceuticals. At the end of 2018, AmerisourceBergen, a global health care company, announced it will expand its full-line Louisville distribution center with a $15 million investment expected to generate 134 full-time jobs. The project will create a high-tech distribution center, which will package, process and ship pharmaceuticals to health care providers across the country. This investment proves that Greater Louisville’s logistical assets also bleed over heavily into the medical sector, as company officials noted Louisville’s location as a deciding site selection factor for the expansion of its full-line facility.

Managing modern health care also requires data prowess and a high-tech skilled workforce. UofL’s School of Public Health and Information Sciences is one of the many regional entities helping keep students prepared. Most recently it launched the Master of Science in Health Data Analytics (MSHDA) to coach students to help health care organizations improve their quality and lower the cost of care, while enhancing the patient experience. The program will be offered online and on campus later this year.

Norton also has a wide range of initiatives in place to attract, develop and retain the workforce it needs.

“This includes partnerships with high schools and universities, an apprenticeship program and scholarship options,” said Gough. “We also believe that health care offers opportunities for lifelong learning, so we offer programs for our existing team members to build upon their skills or pursue advanced degrees or other career paths.” 

But what health care really boils down to is helping people – through data or hands-on care. And Norton and other providers are continually meeting that demand with excellence.

Recent examples include the February 2019 opening of a new Norton Women’s Health office in Shelby County. And in January 2019, Norton Children’s Hospital – which in July 2018 received national recognition for its treatment of children with diabetes – opened its new $12 million, 31,000-s.f. unit that will serve hundreds of sick and injured kids every year. In October 2018, Norton opened its new $38 million Norton Cancer Institute – Brownsboro. The comprehensive cancer care center brings all Norton Healthcare oncology subspecialties and services together for the first time in one location. In the same month it opened the Norton Breast Health Center on the Norton Brownsboro Hospital campus.

Sterling history, top honors

A longtime member of the Louisville health care scene is Jewish Hospital, which in April 2019 celebrated 55 years of organ transplantation. In 2017, Jewish Hospital Transplant Care set an all-organ record, with 187 organs transplanted. Today, Jewish Hospital is among a very small percentage of hospitals across the country approved to perform all five solid organ transplants: heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas. It’s also home to the world’s most successful hand transplant.

Baptist Health also has a large presence in the region. Baptist Health Louisville is a 519-bed hospital that has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as the No. 1 hospital in the Metro Louisville area and No. 3 in the state of Kentucky for 2018-19. In June 2018 it completed a $18.7 million expansion of the emergency department.

Reflecting the needs of an aging population, an increasing industry focus is on at-home and high-tech health. Entities like Norton and others have a big focus on technology, and the hospital was ranked the highest in Kentucky among large organizations on the 2018 list of Best Places to Work in IT by IDG’s Computerworld. These technology experts are relied upon for developing technology to elevate patient care.

“Continued investment in our IT technology and employees helps ensure a support model that provides clinicians with the essential tools to care for our guests and their families,” said Gough.

In April 2019, a new initiative with Norton Healthcare allowed students at Engelhard Elementary School in Louisville to have access to medical care beyond the school nurse. The school-based Telemedicine Program allows a child to see a Norton Healthcare provider through a secure video visit from the school nurse’s office.

Also in February 2019, Louisville-based LHC Group Inc., an in-home health care provider serving 85 Kentucky counties announced it will locate a regional home office at its existing operation in Louisville with a $600,000 investment expected to create 31 full-time jobs.

“Kentucky’s health care sector has grown steadily in recent years, and LHC Group’s addition of a regional headquarters location in Louisville builds on this extraordinary progress,” Gov. Matt Bevin said in a press release.

LHC Group’s investment comes on the heels of the company’s April 2018 merger with Almost Family Inc., a home health care services provider headquartered in Louisville since 1976.

CareTech brings professionals from around nation

Sometimes home health falls on the shoulders of unpaid providers, and the problem of lost wages in health care around the world is a big problem being addressed by the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council.

In April 2019, the LHCC announced it’s accepting applications for its CareTech Pitch Competition, an international competition that convenes investors, entrepreneurs, and enterprises to identify outstanding innovations to address the needs of unpaid caregivers.

“Unpaid caregivers provide an astounding $506 billion of free care every year. Many report that they operate in a near-constant ‘crisis mode’ and struggle to find relevant resources,” said Tammy York Day, president and CEO of LHCC. “LHCC is creating a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs to put their disruptive technologies in front of some of the biggest customers in the health care industry.”

Buschman noted, “We’re seeing more private/public collaborations than ever before.”

He cited programs like Kentuckiana Works; the “Academies of Louisville” that partners with Jefferson County Public Schools; The Thrive Center, an experiential center of technology that spotlights innovation and promotes healthy aging; the Hive, a UofL/Kindred Healthcare technology research and collaboration focused on developing innovative solutions for various aspects of aging care; Lacuna Health, a Kindred Healthcare Innovations company that identifies and solves for gaps in the patient experience; and LEAP (Louisville Entrepreneurship Acceleration Partnership), a collaborative effort to strengthen and grow the innovative ecosystem of the region as some of many examples of this innovation and collaboration at work in the regional health care marketplace. 

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