Consultants evaluate borough hospitals

The job is getting serious for the borough’s Healthcare Task Force as members are still trying to determine a purpose and direction.

The task force and members of the public got a first glimpse at the contracted health care consultants’ opinions at the task force’s Wednesday meeting. Altogether, the Kenai Peninsula’s three hospitals are in relatively good financial shape but have some work to do to get on track with national trends, they said.

Matt Mendez and Eric Shell, both health care consultants from the Portland, Maine-based firm Stroudwater Associates, visited the peninsula this week for a first look at the difficulties facing the hospitals. Although most of their specific work on suggestions for the peninsula will come at the end of March, they presented what they called “preliminary observations” to the task force.

“The caveat that I will put out there to you is that this is our first pass at sharing the data publicly as well as with the hospitals,” Mendez said. “If we need to make any modifications to that, we can do so at a later time. But tonight is really around sharing some observations and key themes, and ultimately generating some discussion around those things.”

Mendez said there are several unique characteristics to the hospitals in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, such as an increase in hospital discharges and growing population across all the zip codes. Elsewhere in the U.S., discharges are falling for rural hospitals, following the trend that the traditional model of admitting patients to hospitals for care is changing, he said.

Central Peninsula Hospital and South Peninsula Hospital also have an exceptionally high percentage of the Medicare patients in the area — 56 percent and 49 percent respectively. That means that 56 percent of the patients in the Central Peninsula Hospital service area on Medicare used the hospital in 2014.

Overall, the hospitals on the peninsula are all doing well financially as well as in patient satisfaction based on the quality reporting data, Mendez said. South Peninsula Hospital consistently scored above the Alaska average on quality measures such as doctors and nurses communicating well, and Central Peninsula Hospital scored above the Alaska average on all categories except for one.

“You can have confidence that each of your patients in your communities are receiving very good care and are having very good experiences,” Mendez said.

However, the question remained for members of the task force: analysis is all well and good, but where does the information end and the work begin?

“Sitting in these presentations has been good, but we’ve been doing it for about six months,” said Pat Linton, a task force member and head of the Seward Community Health Center. “At what point do we really start talking turkey and really start thinking about what we’re going to do here? How do you help facilitate that?”

Mendez said the consultants’ suggestions will be “a facilitative process” and will identify options. Shell added that the goal is not to tell the borough exactly what to do, but to make suggestions as the task force and the borough administration make their decisions.

“These are big questions, and I don’t suggest that we’re going to come to you with the answer,” Mendez said. “We are going to help you find that answer.”

Task force member Kelly Cooper asked if the consultants would be considering the model of consolidating the hospital service areas that borough Mayor Mike Navarre presented in the fall.

“If we’re looking at trying to quit chasing that dollar amount and actually manage our employees’ health better … then hospital powers may be something that we would want to have included in our options,” Cooper said.

The Healthcare Task Force has been meeting for approximately six months and has not yet passed any recommendations to the assembly or made any decisions. The subcommittee, which addresses provider and health care delivery concerns, is working on provider networking but has yet to bring anything formal to the task force.

The consultants “strongly” suggested that the task force use the next two months before they return to draft a charter of the goals it wants to accomplish.

“This is an important opportunity to get some clarity and some heightened focus on the specific purpose and to give you a little more direction,” Mendez said.

Mendez and Shell will return March 30 for a work session with the Healthcare Task Force with their full report.

 

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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