Louisville is a health tech hub. Here’s why.

By Hayley Robb, Building Kentucky

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Brislin.

Health care leaders gathered for a panel hosted by the Health Enterprises Network (HEN), the health care arm of Greater Louisville, Inc., Louisville’s chamber of commerce.

In 2022, the Greater Louisville region saw $1.5 billion invested in hospitals, the creation of thousands of new jobs and dozens of start-ups announced. Home to health care giants like Humana Inc. and many health care technology companies, the event highlighted every entity in between.

Panelists Brian Holzer, CEO of Aware Recovery Care; Kim Farley, COO of eBlu Solutions; and Julia Regan, CEO and co-founder of RxLightning discussed their experiences and success in this growing and evolving industry.

What’s driving the growth?

For many companies, the growth in the health care industry hasn’t been the problem – the challenge has been keeping up with the growth and implementing the right processes and structures to support it.

For Aware Recovery Care, the company benefited from switching to a bundled payment model for its clients.

Aware is an in-home addiction recovery program, helping Kentuckians recover where they live. Kentucky was the 10th state to launch the program, with two more states following the Commonwealth’s lead this year.

Seven years ago, Aware employed 50 people and supported 100 clients. Today, it employs 800 people and will treat 4,500 people this year.

“The problem we have here is we’re driving the highway at 60 miles per hour and trying to change the tires without having the chance to stop the car,” Holzer said. “That’s a very common issue that faces these companies that are going through this meteoric growth. How do you bring the right people in, the processes or follow the platforms all at the same time?”

Holzer stressed that, unfortunately, demand is not the problem for their services. Addiction is an epidemic and only growing.

“We can’t slowdown in order to fulfill our mission,” Holzer said.

eBlu Solutions has experience the same sort of growth, climbing from a team of 5 in 2017 to 35 in 2023. Over a three-year period, eBlu Solutions saw a 359.9% revenue growth, ranking it seventh on Louisville Business First’s fastest-growing private companies list. eBlu is a single-portal software solution to verify benefits for specialty medications.

As eBlu looks to diversify its services in the coming years, Farley said talent recruitment remains a challenge.

Regan founded RxLightning in 2020, which streamlines specialty drug enrollment for both doctors and patients. To date, there are more than 900 specialty drugs on the market and patients spend 5 to 30 days waiting for treatment. Regan and her team aim to create a single destination for specialty prescriptions making the enrollment as easy and seamless as possible for families.

This year, 90 health systems will soon be mandated to use the RxLightning program – a growth spurt they were not expecting.

Regan said unfortunately, the minimum wage jobs in health care are not going to help the talent recruitment issue the industry is experiencing.

“We need to put more towards incubating people who have career backgrounds and inspiring the next generations of ideas,” Regan said.

Advantages to Louisville

“People don’t realize how much health care is in Louisville,” Regan said. “From pharmacies to Humana to drug manufacturers.”

Affordability, family and community were three words that dominated the discussion over why Louisville is perfectly situated to support the growing health care industry.

Holzer, a Louisville transplant, has done everything he can to make Louisville a central location for the Aware team in Kentucky.

“This is a great place to start a company with affordable access to quality of life that will attract workers,” Holzer said. “Every city around us is busting at the seams, that’s quickly becoming unaffordable. “

Holzer said he expects a large group of individuals to migrate to Louisville from Nashville when they realize their cost of living could be cut in half and that they can have just as interesting, quality opportunities here.

The key to Louisville’s success will be keeping this community a mid-size city, he said.

Creating equitable access

The final portion of the panel discussion included questions from the audience, one of which focused on creating greater health care options for Kentucky’s large proportion of rural areas.

One of the largest inhibitors to health care is Internet access, the panel agreed. However, as health technology advances, there will be more opportunities to reach these rural communities.

Holzer brought up airports and the role they play in creating rural health care access, too.

Transportation is a major barrier for residents in rural areas. According to findings from the 2017 National Household Travel Survey, rural residents traveled more than twice the distance (17.8 miles) as urban residents (8.1 miles) for medical or dental health care. And time spent traveling was nearly 9 minutes longer for rural residents (34.2 minutes) than urban residents (25.2 minutes).

While there are still many challenges, technology has helped and will continue to aid communities in making great strides, Farley added.

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