LaFave Stems Health Costs

April 30, 2002
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HOLLAND — The idea remains the same: Provide employers high-quality medical care for their employers at a cost the company can afford.

So after spending an earlier part of his career setting up and running a corporate-owned health care center for the former Prince Corp., Chris LaFave is doing it again.

LaFave is president of HealthBiz Management, a health care management and consulting firm he recently co-founded to run ContinuHealth, an employer-owned medical center in Holland whose owners are Donnelly Corp., Gentex Corp. and Tiara Yachts Inc.

After working on the idea for months when he was with REAL Health and Continuum in Grand Rapids, LaFave set up the new business when he was asked to come and run ContinuHealth by its equity owners. He saw the move professionally as one that met with his desire to work with corporations to help them stem the escalating cost of providing health benefits to their employers.

“It was a natural,” LaFave said. “It fit right in with my own long-term goals and vision.”

LaFave formed BizHealth Management with Michelle Bucell, who serves as director of operations at ContinuHealth.

The medical center provides employees, and their families, at participating employers primary medical care, urgent care, occupational health, radiology, laboratory and pharmacy services, as well as wellness and nutritional counseling. The center employees a staff that includes two primary care physicians and three physician assistants.

Employees at participating employers are not required to use the medical center, although they are encouraged to do so through lower co-pays through their health plan.

In forming and running ContinuHealth as its general manager, LaFave is seeking to replicate the success of the former Prince Corp’s. corporate medical center that he says was helpful in enabling the company to control health costs and better serve employees.

LaFave, 41, joined Prince in 1994 as manager of health and wellness and helped launch the medical center. He later spent two years as global director for health and wellness for Johnson Controls Inc’s. Automotive System Group, which acquired Prince in 1996.

With Johnson Controls implementing changes in Holland and beginning to outsource more operations, LaFave believed it was a matter of time before his area was affected. He decided to leave Johnson Controls and in May 2001 joined REAL Health and Continuum, an employer-owned coalition and health plan formed two years ago to purchase health care services on behalf of its members.

A physician’s assistant who served as medical director at Bil Mar Foods for six years prior to joining Prince, LaFave early on saw himself headed toward a career in health care administration. But he first wanted to practice the health part of the equation.

Working for years as a physician’s assistant gave him a far greater understanding and appreciation for the medical end of the health care business than he could have gotten going directly into administration. The experience, he said, helps him to better communicate with ContinuHealth’s medical staff and understand their issues.

“I wanted to make sure I worked in the trenches,” he said. “That’s always given me my biggest benefit when it comes to communication.”

LaFave expects ContinuHealth to sign on additional equity partners in the near future and is confident the venture will deliver on its promises to provide high-quality, affordable health care and help employers control the costs. He concedes that the venture was a risk, but it’s one that he believes was surely worth taking.

“I’ve never been afraid to try to make something, even if I didn’t exactly know how it was going to work out,” he said. “It was a risk, but it’s working out now.”    

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