Great Gaines

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Ochsner recognizes a shift in health care and brings in a new executive to help lead the way

Even before the passage of the new health-care law, the American health-care system had been changing. The established system has long suffered from rising insurance and procedure costs, fewer Americans with access to adequate health insurance and the weakening of a payment structure based on reimbursements. But in counterpoint, Americans have become more engaged in their own health than ever before. They’re researching conditions and health-care options on the Internet, giving up cigarettes in droves and learning nutritional science so that medical terms like “trans fats” and “omega-3” have become everyday words.

Recognizing these ongoing shifts in health care, Ochsner Health System recently created a new position on its leadership team—the CEO of System Retail Services and Marketing—and to fill it, the health-care nonprofit tapped David Gaines, formerly the chief operating officer at a local venture capital firm.

“We see consumers looking for solutions to help them manage their health,” Gaines tells New Orleans Living. “Wellness-oriented health care is growing at an astonishing pace everywhere around the country.”

So, where is this overlap between health care and retail? Gaines admits that it’s not the easiest thing to talk about in an elevator pitch. But take the thriving fitness industry for one, which perfectly dovetails with the trend of Americans becoming proactively engaged in their health. Ochsner already operates several Elmwood Fitness Centers in the area, and locals should expect the chain to grow. Also under Gaines’ purview are pharmacies within Ochsner, a durable medical equipment store, home health-care services and the Brent House Hotel, located next to the main facility and serving patients’ family members, international patients and vendors.

“Whether it’s nutritional supplements or wellness programs, consumers are looking for solutions that maintain their health outside of the hospital,” he says. “So they’re not going to buy everything for wellness through a physician and run the costs through a complex reimbursement system. It’s coming out of discretionary income.”

At the same time, Gaines wants to emphasize the continuing primacy of the physician-patient relationship at Ochsner. “The doctors are just as important as ever,” he says. “It’s just that in the world of modern health care, doctors are no longer thought of as the last resort for people to go to when they’re sick. Instead, our doctors are active resources in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”

In addition to retail system services, Gaines heads up all of Ochsner’s marketing programs. That includes advertising campaigns, sponsorships of the Saints and Hornets, public relations, internal communications and community outreach efforts.

“The two sides, retail and marketing, are separate,” Gaines says. “But in a new health-care environment, it’s important to our organization that messaging and branding remain consistent and uniform, whether we’re talking about fitness and wellness programs or how we market our cancer services.”

Gaines’ career transition from working at a small venture capital firm to spearheading retail and marketing for a major health-care system might seem like a jump, but he sees it as a continuation. Besides, Gaines has worked in the medical field before. After graduating from Jesuit High School and then LSU with a degree in political science, his first jobs entailed sales and marketing roles for the medical device business. His career took him to Minneapolis and Boston, where he worked for the prominent medical device company Boston Scientific. Eventually, Gaines came full circle back to New Orleans.

Throughout his career, he has found it important to maintain a professional network by joining and becoming active in organizations and nonprofit boards. In fact, it was in the professional group Young Presidents’ Organization where he got to know Warner Thomas, the CEO of Ochsner, and that relationship helped lead to his current position. Gaines also credits his Catholic faith and his wife and three children for their unwavering support.

Now he’s focused on excelling at his new job, and there’s a lot to do. Ochsner acquired three new hospitals recently, bringing the health-care system’s total to eight, not to mention the 24 clinics that are also part of the system. And although Ochsner is aiming for consistent messaging, marketing to consumers in Baton Rouge requires a different approach than in New Orleans, which likewise is different than the approach in Slidell. Meanwhile, Gaines’ department is preparing marketing for the new Gayle and Tom Benson Cancer Center that’s under construction. And they’re getting the word out about how U.S. News & World Report, in the publication’s best hospitals rankings, listed Ochsner in seven specialty categories. And Gaines’ department is publicizing initiatives like a new iPhone app that lets people know how long the wait is at emergency rooms.

“We have a lot of opportunities here,” Gaines says. “Ochsner in effect contains a multitude of companies, so we’re solidifying strategies and organizing our portfolio to bring our communities the best array of health choices possible.”