Face Time December

Posted on Dec 1, 2010 :: Face Time
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Therese Pandl, photo by Michael Leschisin of Image Studios

Uncertainty is a word associated a lot with the passage of the health care reform law. Therese Pandl, president and chief executive officer of the Eastern Wisconsin Division of Hospital Sisters Health System and president and CEO of St. Mary’s and St. Vincent hospitals in Green Bay, knows that all too well. She recently talked with Insight News Editor MaryBeth Matzek about taking steps to provide safe, quality health care without sky-high costs.

There’s a binder, five inches thick sitting on the edge of my desk that contains the 2,000-page health reform law. More than 1,000 times in there it says “the HHS Secretary will,” which basically means it hasn’t been decided yet how that part of the legislation will be implemented or what it all entails. Right now, how the regulations will be written is unclear.

Add to all that the recent Republican wins in Congress and I’m not sure how it’s going to play out. This makes it a bit hard for health care providers, as well as businesses dealing with rising health costs.

Employers are concerned about rising health costs and aren’t sure what to expect. We’ve seen some businesses take an increased interest in wellness and fitness programs as a way to make a healthier workforce and therefore hopefully lower costs.

We’ve also had other employers wonder if they should just drop their coverage altogether and pay any fines for not offering insurance to their employees. It’s not clear how employers will navigate these waters.

With all of that uncertainty out there, our plan here has been to think about what we can do to be as successful as possible.

In our minds, that boils down to three things: providing safe, high-quality service; driving out the waste; and delivering care in a way that meshes with our spiritual mission.

In the past year, we’ve ramped up our continuous improvement process as a way to become leaner. We are looking to save costs where we can.

While we root out waste, we are also making a major investment in information technology. We’re currently investing in a clinical information system that will transform the way we deliver care.

We’re adopting something our partner, Prevea Health, has used in a clinical setting for the past eight years. By bringing it to the hospitals, we’ll not only improve care, but also improve coordination. We hope to have it set up in the hospitals by next October. It’s a huge undertaking, but one that’s necessary.

Technology definitely played a role in the decision this fall by Community Memorial Hospital in Oconto Falls to affiliate with us. Community hospitals face difficult choices. A lot of times, they act like Switzerland and use services from several different providers. If their needs are being met, that’s great and they can stay independent. But sometimes they realize their needs aren’t being met.

That was the case with Oconto Falls. They wanted to be able to provide more services locally and one way to do that was through the affiliation. As part of the deal, we will also invest in their information technology and bring it online with ours.
It was a bit funny how the timing played out with the announcement. About a week before, Shawano Medical Center announced its affiliation with ThedaCare. I don’t think this is some big trend we’re about to see – community hospitals linking up with the big guys. It was just a coincidence.

The key for all community hospitals is to look at the situation and determine if affiliations or partnerships will improve patient care, enhance the provider experience and how it will affect the community.

We all understand health care is an extremely important piece of a community’s economic development and it’s not something to be taken lightly.