Why in the world would hospitals want to collaborate? Maybe to reduce costs, save money, improve services offered to the community, improve quality, better serve the residents of our county, survive ongoing and inevitable cuts to our reimbursement — all of the above, and much more.
I was mystified by Doug Lafferty’s comment in last week’s article entitled, “Hospital CAOs see ‘collaboration’ differently.” He is quoted as saying, “I don’t want to talk collaboration until we know what we need to collaborate on.” I am not sure what we are waiting for. I don’t need a community needs assessment to identify very real opportunities and specific items of collaboration. And, collaboration or cooperation doesn’t mean consolidation. It means working together to enhance the strength of each hospital so that we can continue to provide needed health care to our respective communities.
Also, I would like to correct a misstatement in last week’s article regarding our ambulance service. Eastern Plumas Health Care has four ambulances that serve Eastern Sierra and Eastern Plumas counties. There are always two ambulances working 24/7; at times of high volume, like Fourth of July, we add a third. I’m glad Doug believes that our ambulance services can work together. But, meaningful collaboration is much more than this.
I absolutely agree that meaningful collaboration doesn’t happen overnight. It is hard work, time intensive, and everyone must agree that it is a valuable effort. Opportunities include leveraging our collective strengths to negotiate contracts, joint recruitment of needed physicians, group purchasing, expanding locally provided specialty services, increasing the use of telemedicine services, etc., etc. The consultant that was hired by Sierra Institute identified no fewer than 40 potential opportunities for collaboration!
I have been talking about the need for all of our hospitals to collaborate for three years, and we have gone nowhere! Cooperation and collaboration works and is a proven strategy in health care. My own past experience at the Fremont Rideout Health Group in Yuba City showed that the opportunities were endless to reduce costs, improve financial performance, increase opportunities for employees and improve and expand services to the community. These collaborative efforts don’t just make sense in a large hospital setting. In fact, they are even more necessary for survival and quality in small hospitals like our own.
As I said, I am not talking about consolidating balance sheets and income statements or having one hospital assume and be responsible for the debt of the other. It’s about creating opportunities to make each hospital more efficient. It’s good business for the hospital, and patients reap the benefits as well. Also, I am not talking about consolidating boards of directors, as each community needs to determine the services it will provide. Hopefully, though, the administrations and boards of the individual hospitals would work very closely to plan services that would be best for all communities. I suspect that statements which link collaboration and consolidation are put forth by those who aren’t truly interested in collaboration. It confuses the issue and frightens people away from working creatively on areas of mutual interest.
Collaboration and cooperation take effort and time. And with upcoming health care reform, it is more important than ever that we begin this process now. Getting over past provincial attitudes and striving to work together makes perfect sense.