UPMC names CEO of its first hospital in China

Cleveland native Dr. Randy Jernejcic first realized his love for China at the Ohio State University School of Medicine. In the summer of 1994, he was working in a hospital in Wuhan, a city with few foreigners passing through at the time.

“This started a really long history of me coming back to China and being involved in every aspect of healthcare in China,” Jernejcic said.

Jernejcic will soon return to the county seat of more than 1.4 billion people as CEO of Chengdu Wanda UPMC International Hospital, the first hospital in China to be run by an American academic medical center. The 500-bed hospital is still under construction and is scheduled to open in March 2023.This is the first of five hospitals planned by UPMC Common development with Wanda Groupis a Beijing-based multinational conglomerate focused on film and real estate.

At UPMC Chengdu Hospital, relatively few people qualify for the top job, and Jernejcic fits the bill. He is a US-trained physician who has held leadership positions in hospitals in the US and China. He is from the University Hospital of Cleveland, where he started in 2017 and most recently served as Vice President of Outpatient Quality and Clinical Translation.

From 2010 to 2012, Jernejcic served as Chief Medical Officer for the Beijing market for United Family Hospitals, a private system that owns hospitals in six major cities in China. His responsibilities include overseeing Beijing hospitals, outpatient clinics and rehabilitation hospitals. The hospital primarily serves expatriates — patients come from 90 other countries — which Jernejcic said informs the Chengdu hospital’s model.

Jernejcic’s relationship with China is also personal. His wife of 25 years is from there, and he also adopted his daughter from China.

Healthcare systems in China and the U.S. face similar challenges: ballooning costs and rising rates of chronic disease. These problems are especially difficult in China, where the population is large and primary care is almost non-existent, Jernejcic said.

“So large numbers of people tend to go to hospitals for most of their care, and that really puts a burden on hospitals, not how we spread the burden through primary care,” he said. “It was one of the big differences I saw early on, and it’s still one of the biggest.”

In addition to the obvious specialties such as Oncology, Cardiology and Orthopedics, promoting and delivering primary care will be a major focus of UPMC Chengdu Hospital. Jernejcic says it’s one thing to repair a patient’s buttocks, it’s another to provide a broad continuum of care to patients and their families.

“Traditional specialties are important, but we really have to be a differentiator in primary care and the connections between them,” he said.

While in Beijing, Jernejcic said Chinese doctors were skeptical of him, thinking he would try to make them American doctors. When he returns to China, Jernejcic says he will promote a culture that uses the best aspects of both medical systems, rather than trying to turn one into the other.

“A lot of people tend to go in and say, ‘Let me show you how we did it,'” he said. “I want to change that because I think we’ll be better if we build on each other, not just in one respect. That’s the frame of reference I’d like to take on this.”

Jernejcic said he tried to imagine if a Chinese company opened a hospital in Pittsburgh run by a Chinese supplier. Americans will be equally skeptical. “In some ways, it’s not that different,” he said.

Jernejcic officially took office on February 1. He will plan the opening of the hospital during his first six months in Pittsburgh. The hospital was originally scheduled to open in mid-2022, but was delayed by Wanda’s increased investment in upgrading the hospital’s design and equipment.

The biggest task in the future is recruitment. UPMC has about 20 employees in China and a larger team in Pittsburgh, but they need more employees for the 500-bed facility. Most of the hiring will take place in Chengdu and elsewhere in China, but Jernejcic said he is also looking for people to train in the US and Europe.

“We believe that diversity in medical staff and administrative staff only makes us better,” he said.

Speaking Chinese is not a requirement, even for some caregiver roles, as many Chinese speak fluent English, Jernejcic said.

Wanda’s operations have been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but UPMC says no derailment their adventures, First published in October 2019. Wanda finances the construction and operating costs of the hospital, while UPMC will manage the facilities under an agreement with Wanda.

China’s public hospitals are struggling to keep up with demand, while the Chinese government encourages the development of private hospitals. To this end, the government has allowed hospitals to be wholly foreign-owned since 2014, up from a previous cap of 70%.

Jernejcic said it was unclear how much patients at the hospital would rely on government insurance versus private insurance, which is becoming more common in China. Chengdu also has a large expat population, so UPMC needed to figure out how to serve Medicare patients from their home country.

Jernejcic said the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated plans for hospitals as it limits the ability to travel between countries. That said, key leaders will travel from Pittsburgh to Chengdu to get it up and running.

“There’s a lot of time for people going back and forth,” Jernejcic said. “While it adds to the cost of the project, we think it’s critical to the interconnection between Pittsburgh and Chengdu.”

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