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With more than four decades in healthcare, Joe Swedish has started a private equity firm aimed at improving healthcare.
After a career that spanned more than 40 years of executive leadership experience serving national health insurers and hospital systems-including stints as chairman and CEO of Anthem, CEO of Catholic hospital systems Trinity Health and Centura Health-Joe Swedish “retired” in 2017.
Not that he ever slowed down. He still stayed on as Anthem’s executive chairman of the board until last May, will stay on as one of the insurer’s senior advisers through May 2020, and in August 2028, he became co-founder and partner of Concord Health Partners, a private equity firm focused on strategic investing in healthcare portfolio companies.
“I really had the great experience of being in the healthcare industry for 45 years and arguably have seen many cycles, a lot of challenges and a lot of successes,” he says. “But nonetheless, we still have an industry fraught with a lot of issues regarding unaffordability, significant access issues, and there’s still a long way to go regarding improvement and quality both by ways of service and safety.”
With Concord Health Partners, Swedish aligned with like-minded partner James T. Olsen, a 23-year healthcare investment banking vet and former managing director and group head of Jefferies and Bank of America Merrill Lynch, two leading investment banks in healthcare. The two co-founders plan to invest in technology and solutions that have the potential to enhance the value of healthcare with lower costs, improved quality, and expanded access to care.
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“Having come to a stage in my career where I could easily pivot to certain choices that individuals make when they give up a career, I felt that I now had the opportunity to give back in a meaningful way to an industry that was very good to me and incredibly significant as a key contributor to the health and welfare of our society,” Swedish says. “We are hoping to develop a platform tapping into the financial services sector that could tackle challenges of affordability, access, and quality.”
Swedish is hopeful that Concord Health Partners will make an immediate impact in the industry that he believes needs the strength of innovation to transform it into something the American public would significantly appreciate.
“The formation of Concord Health Partners was made possible because of the innovation momentum,” he says. “Never before in the history of medicine have so many opportunities come forward in so many unique ways where innovators have the opportunities to radically transform how care is delivered. I’m hopeful that in some matters that we can be a contributor to the improvement of healthcare by targeting these innovations looking for ways to come to market.”
Still in its early stages, Concord Health Partners has an outlook that will leverage alignment among collaborative enterprises that are investors in health systems seeking to make a difference.
“It’s an alignment of colleagues and collaborators with desires to capturing these innovations,” Swedish says. “It’s not about investments per se, but about creating a go-to-market opportunity for the innovators that can fit nicely into the fabric of these health systems that are seeking to create a more efficient, effective delivery system.”
Building a career
The son of Eastern European immigrants, Joe Swedish was raised on a Virginia farm and studied at a Catholic Junior ROTC military college preparatory high school before going on to attend the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and obtaining his master’s degree in health administration from Duke University.
In 1973, he made a personal commitment to combine his interests in business, law, and policy in a way where he could serve people and saw healthcare as the epitome of how he could achieve that goal. He has been in healthcare ever since and over 45 years has never wavered in terms of his career focus.
Early in his career, he served as president and CEO of Winter Park Memorial Hospital and Park Health Corp., in Winter Park, Florida; president and CEO of Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Virginia; and senior vice president of Memorial Mission Medical Center and CEO of its subsidiary Horizon HealthCorp.
With Centura Health, Colorado’s largest health system, Swedish was responsible for improving its troubled financial stability and strengthening its voice on healthcare policy issues and making major investments in system expansion with strategic capital deployment to grow and improve the quality of care and services.
After six years there, he headed for a nine-and-a-half year stint at Trinity Health starting in 2005, where he spearheaded the development of the U.S.’ first large scale electronic medical records system, and helped to increase revenue by nearly 50% from less than $6 billion to approximately $9 billion in 2012. Also under his leadership, Trinity continued to grow due to a strong M&A focus, including the merger of Trinity and Catholic Health East to create one of the largest catholic health systems.
When Swedish transitioned from his 40-plus year in the provider sector to work at Anthem in 2013 he felt it was a natural progression.
“I was managing large-scale integrated delivery systems in various parts of the United States and I thoroughly enjoy operating in incredibly complex organizations, especially given the combination and permutations of challenges that they face providing efficient and effective healthcare,” Swedish says. “Having done that for a lot of years, and also witnessing the policy transformation that was occurring at the time, (such as the ACA), I felt moving into the payer sector allowed me as a provider executive to bring skills, insights, strategies and tactical initiatives that would pivot the payer sector to adapt to the new policy mandates.”
With Anthem, which serves approximately 73 million members in 27 states, Swedish saw the insurer’s annual revenue increase from $71 billion in 2013 to $90 billion a few years later.
“If you look at Anthem’s achievements over my five years with the company, we became an industry leader in value-based contracting, with a key ingredient being payer-provider collaboratives,” Swedish says. “This allowed providers to get the benefit of improvement in care delivery so that they got paid for the value they created, rather than the traditional fee-for-service model.”
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Fast forward to 2019, Swedish is taking the experience he’s garnered from throughout his career, and along with Olsen, feels they are creating something especially beneficial for the marketplace.
“We’re not inventing cost escalators; what the two of us know is that we have to find ways of leveraging innovation to create opportunities in the marketplace in terms of care delivery that substantially improves the benefits healthcare can bring to patients,” he says.
In his spare time, Swedish enjoys fly fishing and is an avid golfer. For him, sports are an outlet that provides a strategic focus, takes tremendous skill, and offers him a bit of solitude.
Since going live in September, Concord Health Partners has secured a number of investors and started building out two funds. One is a venture fund being built by way of a strategic placement with the American Hospital Association, which targets early-stage venture activity.
The second fund is a growth-equity fund which targets portfolio companies that are already in market and performing cash-flow positive or near cash-flow positive, looking to take their enterprises to the next level by way of capital infusion.
In May, it made an investment in MIVI Neuroscience, a medical device company focused on developing clinical solutions for neuro-interventional procedures, which provides physicians with innovative tools for endovascular stroke therapy procedures designed to help improve outcomes, shorten procedure times, and make treatment available to potentially more patients.
Other early investments include Flexwise, a technology-enabled business that offers an on-demand staffing platform that provides healthcare organizations with direct access to fully-vetted healthcare professionals available on a flexible basis; and Proton Therapy Partners, a specialty healthcare service provider offering much-needed, life-changing proton therapy to cancer patients through an efficient, cost-effective model.
“The sum total of all of this in terms of a strategic alignment, is the opportunity for value creation, and improving quality of care and science in the healthcare marketplace,” Swedish says. “The landscape already gives indicators of what’s possible. Now it is ready to spring forward with the right combination of motivation, method, and money.”
Keith Loria is an award-winning journalist who has been writing for major newspapers and magazines for close to 20 years.