Per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences drive chair­man of N.J. med­i­cal cen­ter board

Modern Healthcare - - NEWS - By David Royse

Lawrence “Larry” Inserra Jr. has been around hos­pi­tals a long time, much of it for the same rea­sons no­body re­ally wants to be around them.

First, he spent two years try­ing to help his brother in his bat­tle with leukemia.

“Two years fight­ing bat­tles, we ended up all over, from one side of the country to the other, and Canada,” Inserra says. “Four or five dif­fer­ent hos­pi­tals and we saw a gamut of care.”

Af­ter his brother died at age 28, Inserra might have seen enough, but it wasn’t over.

About 25 years ago, Inserra’s 5-year-old son, also named Lawrence, was di­ag­nosed with Hodgkin’s lym­phoma.

This time, the care would come not far from where Inserra’s fam­ily lived in north­ern New Jer­sey. On a rec­om­men­da­tion, Inserra’s then-wife took their son to what is now Hack­en­sack Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

“They were very car­ing peo­ple,” Inserra re­calls. “It wasn’t just ‘treat­ment.’ Every­body was won­der­ful, and it ran through the whole hospi­tal. It was just a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence than we had in a bunch of the hos­pi­tals with my brother.”

The end­ing was hap­pier as well. Lawrence sur­vived his fight with can­cer.

A few years later, when some­one asked Inserra if he was in­ter­ested in serv­ing on the med­i­cal cen­ter’s board of gov­er­nors, he jumped at the chance to help out at the in­sti­tu­tion where his son was treated for lym­phoma.

Inserra, who runs his fam­ily’s gro­cery store chain, joined the HUMC board in 1995. Since then, he has pushed to keep the

cul­ture that made care so much eas­ier dur­ing his son’s bat­tle with can­cer.

The hospi­tal, mean­while, re­mained a cen­tral part of Inserra’s per­sonal life—his daugh­ter, Lind­sey, was di­ag­nosed with di­a­betes at age 11 and re­ceived treat­ment there. Both of Inserra’s par­ents, now de­ceased, also were treated for can­cer at HUMC.

Now, more than two decades af­ter he joined the board, the hospi­tal has grown tremen­dously. The 775-bed not-for-profit teach­ing fa­cil­ity is now the flag­ship of a ma­jor New Jer­sey hospi­tal net­work. It is the state’s largest provider of in­pa­tient and out­pa­tient ser­vices.

The hospi­tal and its par­ent com­pany, Hack­en­sack Univer­sity Health Net­work, have since started a med­i­cal school with Se­ton Hall Univer­sity. And the net­work is seek­ing to merge with Nep­tune, N.J.-based Merid­ian Health, which would make the re­sult­ing com­pany the largest health sys­tem in New Jer­sey, with more than $3.4 bil­lion in rev­enue.

But all along, Inserra, now HUMC’s board chair­man, has thought back to his own fam­ily’s ex­pe­ri­ences and pushed hospi­tal of­fi­cials to re­mem­ber the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ba­sic mis­sion. “We wanted to make sure that we kept pa­tients first, al­ways,” Inserra said.

In recog­ni­tion of his achieve­ments on the board of Hack­en­sack Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter, Inserra is the re­cip­i­ent of Mod­ern Health­care’s Ex­cel­lence in Gov­er­nance Award for trus­tees of large provider or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“He’s got the pas­sion, as a fa­ther, for our health net­work and for the med­i­cal cen­ter,” said Hack­en­sack Univer­sity Health Net­work CEO Robert Gar­rett. “That per­sonal con­nec­tion re­ally gives Larry the pas­sion to be an ex­tra­or­di­nary board mem­ber.”

Inserra, 58, who now lives in Mah­wah, N.J., is chair­man and CEO of the fam­ily busi­ness, Inserra Su­per­mar­kets, which serves north­ern New Jer­sey and south­east­ern New York state.

He ap­pre­ci­ates not just his own fam­ily’s ex­pe­ri­ence at HUMC, but the cen­tral role it plays for other res­i­dents of north­ern New Jer­sey, where his fam­ily has lived for four gen­er­a­tions.

“Ev­ery­one that lives in the area, they don’t say ‘Hack­en­sack Hospi­tal,’ ” Inserra said. “They say, ‘our hospi­tal.’ ”

The pa­tient-first cul­ture isn’t the only rea­son lo­cals ap­pre­ci­ate Hack­en­sack, Inserra said. He said the feel­ing that it’s a com­mu­nity in­sti­tu­tion rather than some cor­po­rate en­tity comes from how it op­er­ates fi­nan­cially and its high level of char­ity care as well.

“Know­ing that peo­ple can come to the hospi­tal re­gard­less of whether they can af­ford to pay, that’s a re­ally im­por­tant thing,” Inserra said. “The peo­ple in our area know that and know they’re go­ing to get the best care whether they can af­ford to pay or not.”

Inserra, who is also a ma­jor donor to the hospi­tal, said the rest of his fam­ily is heav­ily in­volved in HUMC as well. His son, Lawrence, is now on an ad­vi­sory board at HUMC’s af­fil­i­ated chil­dren’s hospi­tal, and Lind­sey is in­volved with di­a­betes re­search foun­da­tions, co-founded by the Inser­ras, that sup­port pa­tients and fam­i­lies there.

“They do it be­cause ev­ery­one loves the hospi­tal.” Inserra said. “It sounds like a corny thing to say, but that’s re­ally what I be­lieve.”

“Know­ing that peo­ple can come to the hospi­tal re­gard­less of whether they can af­ford to pay, that’s a re­ally im­por­tant thing. The peo­ple in our area know that and know they’re go­ing to get the best care whether they can af­ford to pay or not.”

LAWRENCE INSERRA JR.

Lawrence Inserra Jr. Board­chair­man Hack­sen­sack (N.J.) Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter

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