By Dennis Domrzalski, NMBW Reporter
Ben Slocum’s body was shattered, but his mind was solid.
As he lay in a New York City hospital bed in June 1988, the words of his doctors kept going through his mind: “You’ll never run again, and you’ll be lucky if you can walk correctly again.”
It was devastating for the 26-year-old Slocum. He was a marathon runner in his prime. A month earlier, the New Jersey native had qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials.
But now he was in a hospital bed and lucky to be alive. He had been running on a New York sidewalk when a car swerved across the traffic lanes, jumped the curb, smashed into Slocum and sent him flying 70 feet through the air.
The damage to Slocum’s body was horrific: two broken legs, broken right wrist, broken left shoulder, broken left foot and broken back.
“I was lying on the street and could see that things [on my body] were pointing in directions they’re not supposed to be pointing in. It freaks you out when your heel is in the back of your knee,” Slocum recalls.
But Slocum refused to believe the doctors.
“I decided that I was going to walk and run again. I had no idea what the outcome was going to be, but I wasn’t going to sit around and wait. I worked out in therapy like most people work out like they’re training for a sport,” says Slocum, who in December 2010 became CEO of the 230,000-member Lovelace Health Plan in Albuquerque.
After spending a year in a wheelchair, Slocum was able to walk and run again. He even took up a new sport, competitive bike racing.
For Slocum, who just finished his 30th year in the health care field, the injury and his recovery taught him a lesson that he applies to his personal and professional lives:
“It’s all about execution. I believe that luck is part of a plan, and a plan does not get anywhere unless you execute it. You might not execute it perfectly, and it might fail to be anything you thought it was, but if you don’t do it, it is not going to get done.”
Slocum came to Lovelace after a three-year stint as CEO of United Healthcareof Northern California. He joined United to help turn around PacifiCare Health Systems, one of the largest HMOs in the U.S., which United acquired in 2005 for $8.5 billion.
At Lovelace, Slocum has helped implement a new claims system he says will make things easier for doctors, patients and Lovelace employees. It also will allow the insurer to offer new products to consumers.
In the past year, Lovelace Health Plan expanded into Tulsa, Okla., where its parent company, Nashville, Tenn.-based Ardent Health Services, owns a hospital system and medical group.
In the coming years, the health plan and its hospital systems will have to work even more closely to provide patient care at reasonable costs, Slocum notes.
“At the end of the day, it’s about the right care in the right setting for the right amount of time for the patient,” he explains. “It’s about the patient moving through the health care continuum so that it is not disruptive and that it is as integrated as possible. It’s about the health care environment supporting the patient’s needs in the most effective way.”
Slocum’s ability to execute on a plan was noticed by Larry Lujan, president and CEO of The Manuel Lujan Agencies, an 85-employee insurance and consulting agency in Albuquerque.
“We represent Lovelace in our employee benefit packages, and as an agent for him, we deal with him quite a bit,” Lujan says. “He is a good follow-up guy. With him you don’t have a discussion and then never hear anything again. When you have meetings with him, something is going to happen, and there will be follow-up and action items.”
Slocum started his health care career as a salesperson for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Jersey in 1982. He needed a job, and his father, a prominent member of the area’s construction industry, prevailed upon the head of Blue Cross to give his son a break.
“Health care wasn’t something out there that was saying, ‘Hey, come work in our industry,’” Slocum laughs. “I needed a job.
“I was a sales guy, and I walked the streets of Essex and Union counties and went door to door to small businesses, seeing what they were doing for their employees with health insurance,” Slocum recalls. “I did sales for probably the first 10 years of my career.”
It was in 1997 that Slocum got into the management side of health care.
“I was with a company called First Health, which was the largest third-party administrator in the industry,” Slocum adds. “I had led sales for them nationally. They needed someone to take over operations and oversee the implementation of a new IT system and claims platform. I had no experience doing that. They asked me to take it over on a Thursday afternoon. It was pure baptism by fire.”
It was at age 17 that Slocum learned that it might be a good idea to listen to instructions.
He was working one summer for his father’s construction company. It was building the 20,000-seat Brendan Byrne Arena [now the Izod Center] in East Rutherford, N.J., where the New Jersey Nets and New Jersey Devils professional basketball and hockey teams play.
Slocum was told to drive a semi-sized truck loaded with heavy pipe to a different area of the construction site. He was told not to drive across the arena’s floor.
But he did, and soon realized why he was told not to.
“It turns out the floor was all mud, and I sunk the truck up to its transaxle,” Slocum laughs. “They had to bring a crane in through the unfinished roof to lift it out. My boss on the job made me watch.
“I listen to directions really well now.”
Outside of work, Slocum spends time with his wife Jennifer and keeps in touch with their three grown children. He still rides bikes and runs, although he says a five-mile run is his limit.