Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger greets Governor Phil Scott before a press conference in Burlington Monday morning to introduce the new leadership team and new name of Burlington Labs. From left, Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille, Mayor Weinberger, Governor Scott, UVMHN CEO Dr John Brumsted, Aspenti CEO Chris Powell, and Chairman Jim Crook. VBM photo
by Tim McQuiston Vermont Business Magazine BLA Partners, LLC which acquired Burlington Labs in January 2017, announced today the company will now be known as Aspenti Health. A new leadership team with depth of experience in healthcare has joined Aspenti Health over the past months to ensure that the organization continues to maintain a high level of patient care, customer service, compliance and integrity, and continued commitment to the communities they serve. Chris Powell is the new CEO for the expanding toxicology testing lab, which nearly went under last year before being rescued by the new ownership group and the state of Vermont.
Aspenti, according to Powell, plays a crucial role in working with health care providers and other community leaders in identifying substance abuse problems not only in individual patients, but also in the community.
Aspenti employs 140 and has 10 service centers, nine of which are in Vermont, with one in Massachusetts. It will open a new site when it moves the downtown Burlington lab in the near future to Community Drive in South Burlington.
In 2016, Burlington Labs conducted 1.8 million tests on about 10,000 patients.
“Burlington Labs was an integral part of the healthcare system with labs in Vermont and Massachusetts, as well as services in many other states” said Jim Crook, Jr Chairman of the Board, Aspenti Health. “The work the organization did to provide support and resources in the face of the current opioid crisis was vital and we felt strongly that their work should continue. Aspenti Health will build upon the foundation laid by Burlington Labs and will continue working to enrich the lives of those suffering from substance use disorder through diagnostic science and compassionate care.”
Crook was a top executive at IDX Systems (now GE Healthcare) in South Burlington, which does health care software.
Powell said Aspenti Health will play an important part in the health care system by combining compassionate care with state-of-the-art technology, providing accurate results and life-changing services to patients. With the opioid crisis continuing to grow across the country, it’s more important than ever before to have a resource that is dedicated to saving lives through patient advocacy, innovative and accessible treatment and recovery support options, and through strong relationships with care providers. Led by healthcare professionals, Aspenti Health is focused on helping patients meet their recovery goals where they are at, while creating a lasting impact through community involvement.
"We are at our core a toxicology laboratory," Powell said. "We take urine specimens and we test those for different drugs. That is sort of the widget that we do as a manufacturer. But the reality is as a healthcare company we're about recovery and treatment and working with our providers in the state to understand their patients, look at utilization and really help understand the gaps in that care and ultimately help reduce cost and improve recovery and treatment with our providers."
“Aspenti Health is committed to the individuals we serve and the communities in which we serve them,” Powell said. “We are driven by our desire to treat each patient with the dignity and the compassion they deserve and to provide accessible patient-focused treatment options. Our vision is to redefine the role of traditional testing partners, ignite change through community impact efforts, create knowledge via leadership insights, and support the patient community through advocacy.”
CMO Jill Warrington MD, explained that the data Aspenti gathers can be useful in a community health manner by identifying a problem. For instance, she said, unlike an illness such as cancer, a patient with a substance abuse issue may be reluctant to disclose that fact to a health care provider. But with the testing, the health care provider has toxicology data on the patient. Experience shows that with substance problems, the issue is likely not relegated to that person alone and might be reflective of the community in which that person lives, which could be in the family or neighborhood.
"The drug testing comes into play to say, hey, what's an objective measure of whether that patient is using that drug or not. So then that's helpful, but what's even more important is the provider can then take that information and carry it forward to other patients. So if I know that one of my patients has taken amphetamines, and I know that amphetamines is in use in that area, then I know maybe somebody else is using amphetamines as well. So it can be then predictive and helpful as you have further conversations with other patients."
That knowledge ultimately helps the patient by identifying the problem, she said, as well as helping to identify what drugs are being used in the community.
"It's a very powerful means to improve the patient's success and their journey to recovery but also the community's," Warrington said. "I'm sure Mayor Weinberger would like that information as well. So it has a has really powerful application not only for the patient-provider dialogue, but also for the community."
The Green Mountain Care Board, then-chaired by Al Gobeille, now the state's Secretary of Human Services, last September approved Burlington Labs' Emergency Certificate of Need. The health care regulator agreed that it was urgent to approve the CON because of BL's tenuous financial situation and the important role Burlington Labs plays in opiate treatment statewide.
The GMCB approved the applicant's (Burlington Labs Acquisition, LLC) request for the CON. The lead investor was Jim Crook and included the UVM Health Network. UVMHN initially will own 15 percent of the lab and lent the new entity upwards of $5 million.
UVMHN is the umbrella organization for the UVM Medical Center, Central Vermont Medical Center, Porter Hospital and three hospitals in upstate New York.
At the time of the CON, Burlington Labs was struggling financially and lacked sufficient cash to meet its ongoing payroll and trade debt obligations. It was in default with numerous contracts and has trade debt of approximately $3.7 million, much of which was overdue and its monthly expenses exceeded monthly revenue by approximately $400,000.
Dating from March 25, 2016, Vermont Medicaid had been withholding approximately 50 percent of the payments that would otherwise have been paid to Burlington Labs. Under the settlement agreement, Burlington Labs will pay to the State of Vermont approximately $6.5 million in damages related to Medicaid claims.
Crook and his investment group starting in June 2016 provided financial assistance to Burlington Labs. Crook was employed by IDX Systems Corporation (IDX) for 25 years in executive operating roles, including as its President and CEO. Crook is now a private equity investor in several health care IT companies and serves on multiple related boards. Powell has extensive experience in health care IT and worked alongside Crook in executive positions at IDX.
On June 30, 2016, Crook provided a secured loan to Burlington Labs of $800,000 to enable it to meet its payroll obligations and pay its most critical suppliers and vendors. Crook subsequently advanced an additional $585,000 to assist Burlington Labs in meeting its financial obligations.
Crook requested that University of Vermont Health Network (UVMHN) become a minority participant in the Investor Group. UVMHN agreed that Burlington Labs represented an important component of its health management initiatives in Vermont.
The equity investors provided $4.5 million. Its owners initially consisted of the investor group, the then-current owners of Burlington Labs who are no longer involved, and UVMHN.
UVMHN provided loans to the new entity in the amount of $3 million to $5 million.
Burlington Labs also was saddled with nearly $5 million in loans to KeyBank, of which nearly $3 million was an SBA guaranteed loan.
Burlington Labs CEO and Co-Founder Michael Casarico is no longer part of the organization and does not have a stake in the new company.
Of the legacy debt, Powell told VBM: "Aspenti Health has the leadership, funding and governance to make a real difference in our collective fight against opioid addiction/substance abuse. We have worked hard to provide to all creditors (including the State of Vermont) of the former company a path to recover what was owed to them. Since acquiring the company 6 months ago, we have stabilized the business, streamlined lab processes, secured compliance protocols, built customer experience and repositioned the company for a secure future. Aspenti is fully committed to the hard work ahead of us and we are confident we have assembled the right team to achieve our objectives."
The new leadership team includes:
● Chris Powell, Chief Executive Officer
● Cherian Philip, Chief Financial Officer
● Jill Warrington MD, PhD, Chief Medical Officer
● Dan Browdy, Vice President, Business Excellence
● Vanessa Clark, Vice President, Client Experience
● Mike Torney, Vice President, Sales and Marketing
● Aimee Marti, Director of Marketing
● Kelly Kimball, HR Business Partner
About Aspenti Health: Aspenti Health is an innovative, comprehensive clinical drug testing lab that is seeking to redefine the role of the traditional healthcare testing partner. Led by healthcare professionals, Aspenti is focused on helping patients meet their recovery goals while creating a lasting impact through community involvement. Through enhanced access and patient advocacy, Aspenti is dedicated to improving patient outcomes. Aspenti works hand in hand with providers to better serve our mutual patients through patient-focused services such as mobile testing, data-driven digital health integration, thought leadership, and strategic partnerships with leading healthcare and research institutions.