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How I Made It: Donald Crane represents medical groups statewide

The chief of the California Assn. of Physician Groups got his job after his experience in big bankruptcy case.

January 05, 2013|By Chad Terhune, Los Angeles Times
  • Donald Crane, chief executive of the California Assn. of Physician Groups, has expanded membership and sought to boost his organization’s political clout.
Donald Crane, chief executive of the California Assn. of Physician Groups,… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

The gig: As chief executive of the California Assn. of Physician Groups in Los Angeles, Donald Crane represents more than 160 medical groups and their 60,000 doctors statewide on health policy and other industry issues.

Paper route: Crane, 60, grew up in Sherman Oaks, and his first job was delivering the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. In addition to throwing papers onto porches, he was responsible for collecting payments on subscriptions and learned the importance of customer service.

Crane tried to emulate the work ethic of his father, who was a manufacturer's representative for candy companies. The family garage sometimes doubled as a warehouse for chocolate, Sweet Tarts and Tic Tacs.

Clearing the bar: At UC Berkeley, the Eagle Scout completed an undergraduate degree in an unusual major: rhetoric. In class, he studied how authors such as Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare used language to achieve certain effects. Crane considered business or medical school but ultimately opted for Loyola Law School with aspirations of being a trial lawyer. He recalls bearing down to study for three months to prepare for the bar exam. He passed on his first try.

"There wasn't any goofing around or getting by on charm," he said.

Personal life: Crane enjoys biking, backpacking and spending time with his 14-year-old son, Alexander, and wife, Leslie.

Young lawyer: Once out of law school, he joined a small law firm in North Hollywood in 1980. Early on, he defended a wide array of commercial clients, including car dealers who were sued by customers who claimed they had gotten defective cars covered by the state's lemon law.

He also began doing legal work for Northridge Hospital Medical Center, which helped launch him into a healthcare career. Crane eventually became an in-house counsel for the hospital and climbed the ladder at what became UniHealth, a larger nonprofit chain of hospitals, physician groups and health plans. Crane served as corporate counsel there from 1988 to 1998.

Then one day, top management at UniHealth decided to take the company apart and turn it into a charitable foundation. "It showed me that the world can be fickle," he said.

Big bankruptcy: Crane went with the hospitals that were transferred to another nonprofit chain, Catholic Healthcare West (now Dignity Health). It was while working there for two years that he received a high-profile assignment that gave him new insights into the medical business. And it led him to his current job.

In 1999, while Crane was at Catholic Healthcare West, MedPartners Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection. At the time, Crane said, the physician-practice management company was responsible for about 1.4 million patients in California. The case also had major ramifications because MedPartners owed significant sums of money to so many players.

Crane, representing the Catholic hospital chain, was named chairman of the powerful creditors committee, which held sway over how assets would be divvied up and how much creditors would be paid back, if at all. "The demise of MedPartners was a real threat to the industry," he said.

This was Crane's first role in the public eye and it broadened his connections in the healthcare industry. In 2000, as the bankruptcy case was ending, he got a call asking if he was interested in running the California Assn. of Physician Organizations, the predecessor of his current group.

Chief recruiter: Crane said his background was more in hospitals, but he didn't let that deter him from pursuing a plum job. When he took the helm in 2000, the group had about 50 members and $600,000 in annual revenue. "I went into recruitment mode and contacted every eligible medical group," he said.

His efforts paid off — the association has grown to more than 160 medical groups and $6 million in revenue. With a bigger membership in tow, Crane has sought to boost his group's clout in Sacramento and Washington by offering policymakers information and potential solutions to the fiscal and healthcare policy problems they face.

Short on time: Crane and his group are trying to stay ahead of changes triggered by the federal Affordable Care Act and a related consolidation wave that has hospitals and insurers acquiring physician practices.

Crane said that rising medical costs are unsustainable and that this may be the industry's last chance to forge its own solution. "We would like to fix the healthcare system on our own," he said, "and we are trying to do it before someone does it to us."

chad.terhune@latimes.com

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