Print Cuts force changes to VVMC
Written by Lu Stitt   
Sunday, 17 April 2011 00:00

With health care reform and expected cuts in coverage it seems the future of health care is pretty bleak, but there are possible actions that can help avoid some of the negative impact.

Dr. James J. Bleicher, president and CEO of Verde Valley Medical CenterDr. James J. Bleicher, president and CEO of Verde Valley Medical Center, spoke about the health of health care in the Verde Valley and what the future may be for local health care, particularly given what is happening on the federal and state level.

Bleicher also covered what the reform and cuts will mean to rural health care, and that the hospital will need to make a transition in how it does business.

The hospital in Cottonwood operates on a $145 million annual budget and sees more than 4,000 acute care admissions, 26,000 emergency department visits, 58,000 radiological procedures and 3,500 surgeries annually.

“The last few years we’ve been working on whole hospital care to provide the highest quality and safest health care commensurate with what the community expects and deserves,” Bleicher said at the Thursday, April 7, meeting. “We also are looking at what we offer here compared to what people can get in Phoenix.”

He said the perception is that people need to go to Phoenix to get most of their medical procedures done, but Bleicher said the perceived large gap in services is actually very small.

“We can provide 95 percent to 98 percent of what people need among our Northern Arizona Healthcare campuses in Cottonwood, Sedona, the Village of Oak Creek and Camp Verde. We want people to know they do not have to go elsewhere,” he said. “We offer many services most people are unaware of. What we don’t do is transplants, open-heart surgery and brain surgery. Otherwise, it can be done here.”

Most people who visit Verde Valley Medical Center live in the Cottonwood area, Clarkdale, Cornville or the Camp Verde area, but Bleicher said the numbers drop from Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek, with many of those residents choosing to go to Flagstaff or Phoenix.

“There truly is a lack of knowledge of what is offered here. We need to get the word out,” Sedona Mayor RobAdams said.

According to patient care surveys, 65 percent of people who have come to the hospital rate the service as excellent, which put VVMC in the top 10 hospitals nationwide.

“Health care was founded on TLC [tender loving care]. It matters how well we are treating our patients,” Bleicher said.

Some changes the hospital has made in the past few years, as far as patient services is concerned, have included becoming a teaching hospital with residents, and third- and fourth-year medical students, along with nursing, radiological technologists and certified nurse assistant students.

“We also offer physical therapy through Entire Care here and at the Sedona Campus. The cancer center in Sedona is currently being renovated with state-of-the-art equipment to make treatment quicker and safer for patients,” Bleicher said.

The hospital has also won several awards, including for safety, Bleicher said.

“We’re also moving to accreditation through DNV [Det Norske Veritas], and hope this will help us improve even more.” DNV is a risk management company approved by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Health care reform and Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System cuts will have a large impact on health care over the next several years, according to Bleicher.

Nearly 160,000 people may be released from AHCCCS this fall through Medicaid, primarily low-income childless adults. In addition, $144 million will be cut to rural hospitals in the state.

“They gave us a haircut a few days ago. We’re receiving 5 percent less in reimbursements and there’s another 5 percent coming this fall. That’s somewhere between $6 million and $10 million,” Bleicher said.

Most of the health care reform measures will go into effect in 2014, so hospitals are now in the process of figuring ways to operate with less money.

“What health care reform is supposed to do is change the way we provide medical care and change the way we get paid for it. They are not going to give us what they have before. This has been a challenge for us,” Bleicher said.

One step Bleicher talked about was to find ways to keep people healthier so they do not need to seek medical help as often — to transition from just taking care of people when they get sick to serving people before they get sick.

“We need to move from reactive health care to proactive health care to keep people well rather than just take care of them when they’re sick. That’s where we are today. How can we work together to make this happen? We want to form partnerships,” Bleicher said, which is part of a strategic plan for the hospital.

Other parts include creating a closer integration with the community to foster outreach and population health management, and work with community leaders to develop plans to improve the health care of the community.

“Our biggest partnership is with the community and what they want and need in health care,” Bleicher said.

The hospital has started some actions such as the Women’s Screening Initiative, Fit Kids, and working with the Cottonwood Recreation Center on the Looking Good Cottonwood program. Ongoing physician lectures and meetings with the public are also part of the plan.

“We’re working on a peripheral vascular screening program and are beginning a tennis partnership,” Bleicher said. “We’re increasing our family care providers so people can get the help they need and not have to go to the emergency department.”

Bleicher said he is interested in talking with anyone who would like to work with a partnership. He can be reached through the administration office at 639-6048.