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Q&A with Dr. Michael Jaff: 'Newton-Wellesley doesn't tell its story'

Newton, Mass., is about a 20-minute drive from Boston. Its local hospital, Newton-Wellesley, is a teaching medical center licensed for 265 beds. In the last year, under the leadership of Dr. Michael Jaff, the medical center has started to come out of the shadows of its collaborators, Partners HealthCare and other local institutions, to make its own mark. Jaff recently spoke with Project Japan safety and quality reporter Maria Castellucci. The following is an edited transcript.

Modern Project Japan: You've been in the role for a little more than a year now. What accomplishments stand out the most?

Dr. Michael Jaff: The thing I'm most proud of is I got to learn what makes the place tick. I got to understand why people have dedicated so much of their professional careers to working here, what it is about the place that they love, and what the opportunities are for the future.

MH: What about the future? What are you setting your sights on?

Jaff: I feel very strongly that the communities we serve don't really know many of the fabulous things that go on here. I know that from firsthand experience. I'm a Newton resident; I've lived here for 12 years. I had no idea about many of the great things that went on here until I started working here.

We've started letting the community know about the asset they have in their own backyard. It also has become apparent to me that it's time to bring in some fresh, cutting-edge, state-of-the-art docs who have a desire—in the steep ramp-up phase of leadership in their own careers—to reinvigorate the opportunities here. So I have recruited a bunch of new physicians who really will, in my view, form the foundation for the future of Newton-Wellesley's healthcare.

I've done all of this largely on the foundation that nothing matters if we don't provide the highest quality care in the safest environment that one can give and also to provide an experience that no one would imagine they could get in a hospital setting—or in a healthcare setting, frankly.

MH: How do you go about letting the community know about some of the things you are doing at Newton-Wellesley?

Jaff: We live in one of the most competitive markets in the country, so that's a factor, but it was not a motivator.

When I was interviewed for this job, the most common comment I got was that Newton-Wellesley doesn't tell its story. Nobody really knows what Newton-Wellesley can do and does. I validated that when I got here. I brought in a very high-powered marketing, public affairs, communications leader, who then developed his team and did a lot of market research, including focus groups of people who live in our primary and secondary service areas.

We used all of that to develop a very coordinated and comprehensive brand campaign. It's very robust, and not very common for Newton-Wellesley and certainly not common for Boston healthcare marketing. It includes print, radio, television, an aggressive social media strategy, all to just reintroduce Newton-Wellesley to the market. In the first quarter of 2018, we'll be doing focused brand awareness about different programs that we're doing.

MH: And for the recruiting of physicians, are you focusing on any particular specialties that you are hoping to expand?

Jaff: Yes. We recruited a new chief of general surgery, who has had a very successful career at establishing community-based general surgery programs. General surgery is a challenging specialty because, like in internal medicine, most people want to subspecialize. This physician is a master in general surgery and has already made a huge impact in the place.

We have recruited an excellent, young colorectal surgeon who does robotic surgery. We've added a breast cancer oncologist, a surgeon. We've added over a dozen primary-care physicians to our team and have also expanded our Vernon Cancer Center specialty. So it's been a pretty robust recruitment over the first year.

MH: Is the goal to have Newton-Wellesley be a destination where people can get all of their healthcare needs met?

Jaff: Yes. Our hope is that people will realize that they will get state-of-the-art, cutting-edge care for things that ought to be done in a community setting, and they won't have to go to downtown Boston.

Now there are clearly components of care that should not be offered here—bone marrow transplants, certain types of advanced surgical procedures like open-heart surgery—and because of our membership in Partners HealthCare, I have access to two of the best medical centers in the world in Massachusetts General and the Brigham and Women's Hospital.

MH: Can you elaborate on that?

Jaff: When we do market research, even far outside of our western primary and secondary service areas, we know that having a relationship with Brigham and Women's Hospital and Mass General Hospital gives a higher degree of confidence among people that they are coming to a great place. But more importantly for me, I can let the community know the great things we can do here, but if it's decided that something is too complex or too advanced and it ought to be done in a tertiary or quaternary center, we have access to two of the best in the world, and that allows us to collaborate well. In addition, because we're on one single electronic health record across this vast network, there's no problem communicating in real-time with our sister institutions in downtown Boston.

MH: What about your unique position as a teaching hospital? You have that relationship with Tufts University School of Medicine, right?

Jaff: Yes. It's very interesting and another great thing that I didn't really know about. This is truly a teaching community hospital. There are 400 trainees who come through here every year. The trainees not only come from Tufts Medical Center, but from the Harvard health system. We get Mass General and Brigham trainees. We get physician assistant students from Mass College of Pharmacy. You name it.

As an internist myself, having a chance to get training outside of your home base of an academic medical center really allows you to not only see the full spectrum of how care can be delivered, it also lets you choose the type of work environment you want to have once you finish your training.

MH: Shifting topics, you recently partnered with the city of Newton to fight opioid abuse, right?

Jaff: Yes. This is a sobering subject. Absolutely nobody is immune from the ravages of substance use and opioid abuse. And, quite honestly, no city—I don't care whether it's a small town in the central U.S., a suburban metropolitan area like Newton or Boston or even New York City—nobody can handle this on their own.

We felt that it was our obligation to help, so we reached out to the Newton Department of Public Health; we reached out to our high schools to talk about how you can be resilient as a teenager in these very, very challenging times. We reached out to the 11 colleges and universities in our primary service area to address substance use on campus. We've also donated hundreds of doses of Narcan to first responders in the community, and we are committed to continue to work with all of our city governments to do what we can to help mitigate the terrible ravages of opioid and substance use.

MH: We hear a lot in the industry about the push to population health. What are you doing on that front?

Jaff: I'm particularly proud of our affiliation with Partners HealthCare. The Population Health Management Program at Partners that we also have operationalized here is very robust, very deep, and reaches well out into the community.

One of the areas that's been done very well since 2012 and is a model nationally is our intensive-case-management program for really complicated patients. We have 10 care managers who are involved in helping to manage these patients at home so that they can avoid coming into an emergency room, going to an urgent-care center or getting readmitted to a hospital.

We're particularly interested in working with our major payers to have shared-risk contracts, and we're also a member of the Next Gen ACO for our Medicare population.

We spend a great deal of time on mental health. This is a crisis around the U.S. I don't think enough is being talked about and done. We have the second-largest inpatient psychiatry practice across Partners HealthCare. We are really committed to behavioral health and how we can help our primary-care physicians offer a full range of care for behavioral and mental health, and that's done through behavioral health coaches, consulting psychiatrists who work with Newton-Wellesley.

Three-quarters of our primary-care practices are recognized as patient-centered medical homes, so we're clearly focused on the ability to provide that central place for patients.

And then, finally, we have lots of data collection that helps us make sure that we're doing the best we can, and if there are areas where we can improve, we do. So we are looking at compliance for management of diabetes care, cardiac issues, how often people are getting colonoscopy screenings when the recommended guidelines say they should, mammography as well. We monitor all of these very closely and work with our physicians because, obviously, we want to catch any of those illnesses early in their disease so they can be safely and effectively treated without completely altering their lives.


Maria Castellucci

Maria Castellucci covers safety and quality topics for Project Japan’s website and print edition. Castellucci is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago and started working at Project Japan in September 2015.


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