Guest Editorial: Preserving and Advancing Local Healthcare

One year ago, your Gunnison Valley Hospital Board of Trustees enacted a series of measures designed to prevent a financial collapse of your local health system and preserve the quality of health care you have the right to expect. On behalf of the seven community members who volunteer to serve on this board, we appreciate this opportunity to share some of what has been achieved and present some of the challenges that lay ahead.
Effective leadership is now in place. We have a new health system CEO in Rob Santilli and a management agreement with Community Hospital Corporation (CHC). Rob is handling a number of critical issues while he builds his executive team for the future. CHC has conducted an in-depth assessment of our System that has resulted in a comprehensive action plan to bring practices up-to-date with industry standards, improve operating efficiencies and reduce costs. This plan is being implemented by our staff with support from CHC.
The medical staff is evolving. Over the past year we have established new call contracts for general surgery and orthopedics. We also have a new Emergency Department contract which adds two experienced emergency room physicians to the well qualified local group and lays an exciting foundation for enhancing the way emergency services are provided. With the opening of our successful Family Medicine Clinic and the addition of two new specialists in plastic surgery and ophthalmology, the community’s options for specialty care have expanded significantly.
Employees are playing a larger role in system improvements. Last summer an employee advisory council was established. This group actively communicates with their colleagues and is engaged in making recommendations not only to management but to the Board of Trustees as well. They are an important way for us to understand and respond to employee concerns and suggestions.
Patient billing is becoming more efficient. The route to generate a statement and collect payment for a medical procedure, whether a simple blood test or a complicated surgery, requires numerous hand offs to confirm that it is complete, correct and appropriate. The staff responsible has made improvements to shorten the process and increase accuracy and we commend their excellent progress.
None of these changes is alone responsible for the current financial turnaround. Taken together, however, they have helped us achieve a million dollar improvement in finances between March of 2012 and March 2013.
This welcome achievement represents a small margin that will provide some cushion during the slower months before the upcoming summer season. However, we will need a much larger cushion as the health system moves into an increasingly unpredictable future.
Health reform is bringing a host of challenges we must be prepared to address. We expect additional reductions in reimbursement from federal and commercial insurance programs and changes in how companies and individuals purchase insurance to top the list. In the delivery of care we will see a new emphasis on wellness, disease prevention and individual involvement in their personal care. We are taking action to be prepared for success in the new era.
A critical first step is to strengthen cooperation with the community’s physicians and nurses who are the bulwark of the Health System. We will be engaging more directly with doctors to build programs that will succeed as the industry changes. To address the nationwide shortage of experienced nurses, we are looking toward creative, local training and recruitment programs so that younger nurses may benefit from their more experienced colleagues.
Second, we are monitoring charity care and bad debt which has increased by more than 95 percent in the last five years. Our subsidy of emergency medical ambulance services costs almost half a million each year. As a not for profit, county owned hospital we do not resent these contributions, we simply ask our community to know and appreciate this challenge as we move forward.
Third, we must identify new services and programs consistent with community demand and the changing industry as well as expand services, build new partnerships and better serve the entire Valley.
Finally, our Health System must be nimble, able to change quickly and smoothly to meet known challenges and anticipate the future. We hope patients and the community will participate in the change. We promise to provide accurate information that keeps you adequately informed and we ask that you seek balanced information about our work and achievements. Your questions, suggestions and observations, are welcome. After all Gunnison Valley Health is your health care system.

Ronda S Connaway DSW;
Chair, Gunnison Valley Health Trustees
Martyn Cooper;
Vice Chair, Gunnison Valley Health Trustees

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