Clinical Laboratory Partners, LLC: James E. Fantus, President & CEO

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At one point in time, Clinical Laboratory Partners (CLP), was struggling to stay alive. As James E. Fantus, president and CEO, describes that time, CLP should have dissolved.

Now, it is one of  the largest laboratories in the state of Connecticut with approximately 85 locations, 900 employees, and a budget of $140 million per year.

A wholly owned subsidiary of Hartford HealthCare (for whom Fantus also serves as vice president), CLP offers a broad range of services to patients and physicians, chief of which is lab testing. Testing  services include anatomic pathology, molecular diagnostics, chemistry, hematology, microbiology, and cytogenetics.

In addition to providing customers with these services, CLP also accepts all major insurance plans. Fantus points out that not all laboratories can say that, and he emphasizes that this is one of the many benefits that goes along with their Hartford HealthCare relationship.

Furthermore, CLP’s primary focus is on physicians, he said. Hospitals and nursing homes are also serviced by CLP.

Out of the ashes and into growth

One thing that has marked Fantus’ tenure at CLP is growth even during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Fantus said if one saw CLP’s statistics on a graph, one wouldn’t even think there was a floundering U.S. Economy .

“Last year has probably been one of the worst years that anyone alive today can remember, as was the year before,” he said. “We had record business and profit growth.”

In fact, CLP is growing at approximately 15 percent year over year in terms of real volume.

“Before I came here, this company was not in a good place,” Fantus said. “They actually should have closed it down and just walked away from it. But when I needed to move on from my previous job–I was the CEO of a laboratory in another state–and I looked for a place to go, this particular organization had everything going for it, just nobody knew it. But I knew it. So for me, this was the best opportunity because I knew exactly what I had to do, and everything I’ve predicted has happened  as I predicted it.”

CLP’s success under Fantus’ leadership is the result of effective planning and metrics. The company has gone from being the lowest  performer for their health system in percentage of margin to the best.

Success through basic marketing

Fantus believes his marketing background contributed to the success he has experienced at CLP. In trying to get the company to turn around, his predecessor kept cutting costs and paying lower salaries. However, the company ended up losing business because it had cut resources so far that customer service (e.g., answering phones quickly, responding to problems efficiently, etc.)  suffered.  Resources had been cut down to a point where the company couldn’t compete with anybody.

Fantus’ approach was to grow business. As he said, “That’s a lot more fun than cutting back. Things that don’t grow die.”

His first move was to hire enough people to address the customer-service problems that CLP was having. Fantus wanted the product they offered to be something that physicians would want. Then, he went on a tour of sorts, visiting the company’s largest customers, mainly physician groups, who had remained loyal to CLP in spite of its trials. Fantus’ goal was to understand what his company was doing wrong.

Since CLP had no idea how to market its services, Fantus then assembled a strong sales and marketing team. He acknowledges that this was a costly gamble, but he said it was necessary to get volume growing again.

His final move was more subtle and delicate. Fantus said he wanted to make the work CLP does a personal matter for his employees.

“I tell every employee in orientation that we want them to give to the company in a way that they wouldn’t hesitate to send their mother or father here to get lab work done. I think as we get people to feel that way, the job becomes more personal.”

The difficulty of regulation

Of all the challenges facing CLP today, HIPPA regulations are probably some of the more difficult with which to deal because of the serious consequences for not following them and the amount of resources it takes to maintain a secure patient record.

“We have to protect that information both internally and externally, and so does everybody in healthcare,” Fantus said. “And it’s really one of those regulations that is adding a new dimension to providing health services.”

He added that the low reimbursements for the federal payers–people who don’t have insurance–exerts a great deal of influence on all of the organization’s cost-shifting. Fantus believes it’s a result of federal payers not contributing their equal share to the system.

However, none of these factors dissuades him from pursuing a future of expansion.

“Our goal is to be the biggest lab in the state,” Fantus said. “We have one other competitor to overtake. We’re still a year or two  away from that, where we would be the biggest player. And in this environment, size really does matter. The small organizations are going to find it very difficult to compete. We’re able to serve patients anywhere in the state. We’re the kind of organization that a payer wants to deal with.”

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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