Region continues to adjust to health care reform, growing demand 

Aug 28

Courtesy of the NWI Times

The health care industry and the country was divided with passage in March 2010 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and 17 months later many questions remain for health care systems and patients.

Since Jan. 1, the Franciscan Alliance has been expanding its health system and working toward understanding all implementations of the federal legislation. In February, the Franciscan Alliance announced it would buy the Hammond Clinic, now known as Franciscan Hammond Clinic. At a June blessing, Barb Greene, president of Franciscan Physicians Hospital, said the Hammond Clinic would not change much except for revamping a surgery center into a Gastrointestinal Center of Excellence. There also will be some management team restructuring.

The Franciscan Alliance in April acquired the Surgical Hospital of Munster, 7847 Calumet Ave. It will serve as an outpatient surgery center of Franciscan Physicians Hospital LLC, and any inpatient procedures will be transferred to the Franciscan Physicians Hospital, Greene said.

Gene Diamond, the Northern Region CEO of Franciscan Alliance, said the acquisitions will help the health system become an accountable care organization, a model outlined in the health care reform legislation to improve patient care, reduce medical costs and enhance health care delivery. The system is progressing but it's not yet at accountable care status, Diamond said.

"We have decided we need to get ourselves in the right shape," Diamond said. "We're redoubling our efforts to be more efficient and more effective and look at how some of the bigger systems are doing it."

As with the Franciscan Alliance, Methodist Hospitals has accountable care status in its sites. Matt Doyle, interim chief financial officer, said Methodist is in the research phase.

Methodist Hospitals have changed since health care reform began. Steve Grant, vice president of operations, said the hospitals are creating a breast health center, which should be completed in the first quarter of 2012, and a spine care center, scheduled to open at the end of this year. He said the emergency department at the Southlake campus in Merrillville will be expanded and project bids are being sought. The new department will have 21 beds and rooms separated by walls and glass instead of curtains. Updated equipment should decrease waiting times, he said.

Lobby renovation recently was completed at the Northlake campus in Gary.

"That's a hospitality thing. Everybody's interested in it being a warm place, a friendly place," Grant said, adding that hospitals need to focus on patient satisfaction as part of the reform legislation. "Most of the construction is to bring older buildings into more modern (facilities). We want to make the clinical areas larger ... and make it a brighter, plesanter place to be, as well as more efficient."

Methodist Hospitals also are expanding their physician network, said Jim Kirchner, vice president of physician integration. Kirchner said the goal is to increase from 20 physicians to 80 to 100 within two years.

"We're very much focused on good, quality care," he said.

In Porter County, Indiana University Health LaPorte acquired Lakeshore Surgicare Center in Chesterton in 2010. In February, the hospital announced its affiliate, Workforce Health LLC, would open a third office in March in Eastport Centre off Ind. 49 between Ind. 2 and U.S. 30 in Valparaiso. Officials said that expansion, however, was unrelated to health care reform. Dave Hyatt, vice president of strategy and ambulatory services, said in July there were no other plans to expand, but the health system always looks to serve more patients.

"The traditional model of one large hospital isn't really the model of the future of how to provide the best care. (We want to) provide more locations," Hyatt said.

Community Healthcare System, specifically St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago, is expanding based on market need. Craig Bolda, chief operating officer of St. Catherine, said the hospital will open Hessville Family Care Center, 3432 169th St., in the Briar East Shopping Center in Hammond. He said the expansion is unrelated to health care reform.

"It's a step in the right direction of making affordable health care present," Bolda said.

The 6,600-square-foot clinic will have family practitioners, internal medicine physicians, obstetrics and gynecology, and pediatrics, with specialties such as orthopedic surgery, cardiology and general surgery moving into the building about three months after the opening.

The clinic will have X-ray capabilities and an outpatient lab, and an immediate care component, Bolda said.

"We had a lot of analysis done, and there is a deficit of family care physicians in that area," Bolda said. "We want to build that business out there and meet the medical needs of the community."

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