Hospitals strive to provide streamlined care - November 27, 2013

Courtesy of the Times


This year has been a year of change for the health care industry, as hospital officials strive to implement technology designed to streamline patient care and keep costs down while they build new brick-and-mortar outpatient facilities closer to where their patients live.

Hospitals are opening outpatient facilities across Northwest Indiana and in the South Chicago suburbs to better meet the needs of their patients.

Community Healthcare System opened two immediate care facilities, one in Schererville and one in Valparaiso in 2013, to provide primary care physicians and diagnostic services to the residents in those communities.

It also opened Brickie Community Health in late October inside Hobart High School.

“Health care is changing, and we’re trying to do as much as possible,” to accommodate the evolution in the industry, said John Gorski, chief operating officer for Community Healthcare System.

The organization – which includes Community Hospital in Munster, St. Catherine’s in East Chicago and St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart – is also planning major expansions at its main hospital sites.

A neonatal intensive care unit, new birthing center and neurosurgical center for patient care are being added to the Munster hospital above the emergency pavilion. St. Catherine’s has opened a mood disorder unit. In Hobart, administrators are in the bidding stages for a four-story tower that is a new surgical wing addition to the hospital and adds a new intensive care unit.

“We’re trying to consolidate as many services as we can, to keep expenses in line and not duplicate services between hospitals,” Gorski said. “We’re also doing more and more procedures and moving specialists to St. Catherine’s and St. Mary so they can do more complex procedures there. That’s where our growth will be in the future.”

This March, Methodist Hospitals Southlake campus opened a new emergency department, which encompasses 21,000 square feet and at a cost of $8 million. The addition is the hospital’s first major upgrade in about a decade, officials said at the time.

In September, Methodist Hospitals Northlake campus opened a medical stabilization unit, designed to help adults withdraw from alcohol and opiate addictions. The 13-bed unit offers 24-hour care, and patients are expected to stay a few days before being referred for further outpatient treatment.

The Ingalls Health System, which serves customers across the south Chicago suburbs, is in the process of renovating patient rooms to convert as many as possible to private rooms in their Harvey facility, said Susan Fine, marketing communications director.

“We’re tackling them one unit at a time, and continuing to make great strides in patient satisfaction,” she said.

Ingalls is also recognizing the importance of meeting patients where they are, and is focusing on their outpatient facilities, including the Flossmoor Family Care Center and the new quick-care clinic in Crestwood.

Ingalls located its new, state-of-the art 3T MRI machine in the Flossmoor center, while in Crestwood, patients don’t need an appointment to see a nurse practitioner.

“We recognized early on, decades ago, that patients want care that’s accessible and convenient,” Fine said. “Putting the MRI machine in Flossmoor, for example, makes it more convenient to get to than by going to the hospital to get the procedure done. The Crestwood facility acts as a low-level emergency room as an additional level of service, and we’re hoping the community embraces it.”

Franciscan Alliance recently rolled out a lung screening program that will help area patients, said Gene Diamond, chief executive officer for Franciscan Alliance Northern Indiana Region.

“Patients who are susceptible to this disease can have cases diagnosed and treated sooner, which can greatly improve their survival rate,” Diamond said. “Lung cancer has an 88 percent survival rate when found and treated in the early stages.”

Porter Regional Hospital has been investing in technology and medical advances in 2013, and has added a 16-slice radiation reduction CT, a second daVinci surgical robotic platform, 1.5T MRI System, real-time digital radiography and advanced interventional cardiac monitors, said Jonathan Nalli, Porter Health Care System CEO.

The hospital was recently awarded Advanced Certification in Heart Failure from the Joint Commission, the first hospital in the area to be recognized for this award, Nalli said.

It also received recognition by at least a dozen other groups, including the American Heart Association, the Society of Chest Pain Centers, the American College of Radiology and the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation.

It has also begun a clinical affiliation with Loyola University Health System.

“That means Porter patients can still retain the comforts and convenience of their home hospital, while benefiting from academic research and evidence-based quality care by Loyola’s clinical specialists,” Nalli said. “Soon, Porter Regional Hospital’s Cancer Care Center patients will have access to clinical trials conducted by Loyola faculty, close to home.”

The Porter network is also expanding its CareEXPRESS Urgent Care Centers throughout Porter County, opening a third site at Porter Regional Hospital’s Portage Hospital location.

Another important milestone for Franciscan this year was celebrating the caregivers who have devoted themselves to giving patients the best care possible, Diamond said.

The Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration celebrated their 150th jubilee this year. In November, their foundress, Mother Maria Theresia Bonzel, is being beatified, Diamond said.

“The Sisters have served hundreds of thousands of people and continue to provide compassionate care to more and more,” he said. “They came to this country from Germany with nothing and have cared for all comers ever since.”

Overall, hospital administrators agreed the health care industry is one that is moving more towards focusing on preventative care and performing procedures on an outpatient basis, if possible.

The concept of preventative care has caught on over the years. For example, mammographies are catching breast cancer earlier and earlier, which improves life expectancy and reduces treatment costs. Similarly, diet, medication and smoking cessation have all helped reduce the numbers of heart disease, which otherwise might have been treated as heart attacks in the emergency room, Gorski said.

Porter Regional Hospital also began a corporate wellness program, called Health At Work.

“We know a healthy workplace contributes to a healthy bottom line,” Nalli said. “By partnering with businesses, Porter’s Health At Work program offers a comprehensive range of job-related wellness and medical services that can be custom tailored to fit the specific needs of local organizations.”

Hospitals continued to spend millions of dollars to improve technology throughout their systems, officials said.

Fine said the Ingalls health network is moving more and more services online, to reach customers where they are.

The network has started to offer the ability to make appointments online, not only in the hospital, but also in the family care centers. Fine said physicians offices in the network are also starting to offer this service.

For those without Internet access, the network offers a telephone operator who is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We want to keep up with how people like to do things, and do them the way they should be done,” Fine said.

It was also a year of staffing cuts, as Franciscan Alliance announced in October it would reduce its workforce by 275 employees across it‘s network, which includes 11 hospitals and health care facilities.

Cuts were made in areas spanning from administration and management to clinical and no clinical positions.

“The shallow economic recovery, implications of the Affordable Care Act and continuing changes in health care financing and other factors have had a significant impact,” Diamond said.

This year, the Community Healthcare System spent upwards of $60 million on automation patient records at all three hospitals, Gorski said.

The move will help doctors learn more about their patients as well as enter and process orders more quickly, he said.

Hospitals are seeing the money they recoup from the government diminish as they continue to slash reimbursement rates, so automation becomes more important so hospitals can treat more patients more quickly.

“We’re trying to get more efficient and get patients in and out more quickly by using the appropriate diagnostic tests,” Gorski said. “We want to get the right care to patients at the right time.”

The electronic information gathered is then submitted to the Indiana Health Information Exchange, so it can be accessed from around the state, no matter which hospital or doctor’s office a patient is in.

“We want physicians to be able to make their judgments based on more information, and not duplicate procedures that might have been done recently,” Gorski said. “We want to know more about patients so we can make better decisions and be more efficient in the way we provide care.”

Advances in technology have also been instrumental in forming better partnerships between hospitals and physicians. Those partnerships have also helped improve the quality of care by trying to trouble-shoot to reduce things like infections and surgery complications.

“The goal is to avoid complications, avoid re-admissions and avoid harm to patients,” he said. “Bringing everyone together this way is a new paradigm. We always work together, but we’re even more focused on standardizing how we treat patients. It’s not an exact science, but we’re getting better.”