Jeffrey Brenner Is Leaving UnitedHealth To Return To Primary Care Roots

Founder of the Camden Coalition and a SDOH pioneer is looking to establish a primary care clinic in southern New Jersey.

Jeffrey Brenner, M.D., who has pioneered programs for vulnerable populations and high utilizers of health care, has left his position at UnitedHealth Group to open up a primary care clinic in southern New Jersey.

“I'm going to do a primary care startup,” he said during a telephone interview today with Managed Healthcare Executive.® “I'm a family doc, and my true love has always been primary care.”

Brenner, 51, said he has been looking for office space the past few days. UnitedHealth Group has announced his departure internally, but there has been no external announcement.

Brenner was hired by UnitedHealth in February 2017 after he founded the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers in 2003. Brenner and the coalition took the then-novel approach of identifying people who went to emergency departments often and were high — and expensive — utilizers of heath care. The group offered preventive services, including some outside of the normal boundaries healthcare, to address their illnesses and reduce their use of healthcare services and the associated expenditure.

Brenner and the coalition’s efforts are partly responsible for the current focus on addressing the social determinants of health. Atul Gawande, M.D., wrote a profile of Brenner and the coalition for The New Yorker in 2011 titled "The Hot Spotters." In 2013, Brenner was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” Grant.

At UnitedHealth, Brenner led the creation of programs in over a dozen cities that provide housing and other non-medical services to vulnerable populations covered by the country’s largest insurer.

Brenner said he is planning to return to his roots as a family physician beginning sometime this fall. He said he will be working with Kathleen Stillo, MBA, who worked with him in Camden and at UnitedHealth Group, where she was president and chief operating officer for clinical redesign.

Brenner and Stillo ran a “pandemic hotel” in Secaucus, New Jersey, for COVID-19 patients earlier this year. The site was set up to temporarily separate patients from their families in an effort to stop the spread of the deadly virus. “In that setting, it was really nice to be back close to frontline care again,” Brenner said.