Q&A: Russell D. Harrington Jr., President and CEO of Baptist Health

If you were king of the world, what would you do to control rising health care costs?

The inability for patients to pay for health care has had a devastating consequence not just for the patients but also for not-for-profit community-based hospitals that care for them. Last year, Baptist Health provided $175 million in health care services that was either pure charity or bad debt. To improve the health status of our citizens as well as the stability of our state's vulnerable hospitals, I strongly urge our state leaders to support expansion of the Medicaid program. An expansion of Medicaid eligibility would provide insurance coverage for a large percentage of Arkansas' uninsured, provide a significant step toward curbing the growth in health care costs and motivate the newly insured to seek medical care at the earliest stages of illness, rather than waiting to seek care at the most expensive point of care: the hospital emergency department. This expansion would be a great benefit to Arkansans in need.


What is the biggest issue confronting Baptist Health?

While we expect growth in the number of patients Baptist Health will serve, there will be increasing pressure by the government to reform payment and health care delivery systems at the same time. The unfortunate reality is that public policy makers will continue to make cuts in Medicare and Medicaid payments to hospitals in order to fund deficit reduction. Enacting additional Medicare and Medicaid cuts that only serve as a source of funds to address federal budgetary shortfalls will affect the work hospitals do for their communities, cause job loss for health care workers and hurt the local economy. This is a serious challenge especially for community-based charitable hospitals like those in the Baptist Health system that serve as the health care safety net for those who can't pay.


How might a partnership between UAMS and St. Vincent change health care services in Little Rock? Has Baptist looked at this sort of partnership?

As a general rule, we do not comment on the business arrangements and decisions of other health care providers. We remain focused more on what we need to do versus what others are doing.


Have you seen public-private hospital partnerships elsewhere? How have they worked?

Based upon what I have read on the subject, there have been mixed results around the country.


What will the hospital landscape in Little Rock and Arkansas look like in five years?

With Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement at risk on the federal level and uncertain prospects of expanding Medicaid to the uninsured at the state level, I believe we could see closure of some hospitals in many of our under-populated and rural communities in Arkansas.  In central Arkansas, I think these same pressures could result in some consolidation of services. Regardless of what our government leaders decide or how other providers structure themselves, we believe offering the highest quality care and providing patients with a gold standard of service they will get nowhere else will transcend market evolutions.


Bio: Russ Harrington

Background: Before becoming president and CEO of Baptist Health in January 1984, Harrington was associate executive director of Baptist Health, administrator of Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock, executive director of Baptist Memorial Hospital in Kansas City and assistant administrator of Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock.

 Education: Bachelor's degree in education from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro and a master's in health services management from the University of Missouri at Columbia.