Dear Community Friend,
Summer is upon us and we’re nearing the end of our 2016-17 fiscal year. It has certainly been an interesting and challenging period for all of us in health care. While the political headlines were getting most of the attention, there were many positive accomplishments this past year at Huntsville Hospital Health System.
Our Joint Commission review in December was the best that we could remember. The Joint Commission provides a comprehensive evaluation of a hospital’s compliance with quality standards and guidelines. Our staff did a great job in affirming the excellent care that is provided to our patients. The result was that we received full accreditation for three years and earned high praise from the team of surveyors who spent five days reviewing our operations in Madison County.
Providing quality health care is our number one priority and is the core of our mission to our community. This commitment was also evident in other ways during the past year, including:
- Our cardiac, spine, and brain surgery programs were recognized for excellence by Healthgrades and our hospital was singled out by the U.S. News & World Report for performing among the best in our state and nation. These recognitions place us in the top percentiles of hospitals in the U.S.
- We officially welcomed the Spine & Neuro Center to our HH family. They are the largest and most experienced neurosurgical group in the region.
- Our North Alabama Neuro-Stroke Network spread its tele-medicine services in six hospitals in our region, with more expected this year.
- We opened the state’s first Obstetrical Emergency Department at Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children and we also celebrated 10 years of service at the St. Jude Affiliate Clinic which is located on the Women & Children’s campus.
- Madison Hospital, which turned five years old in February, was approved for 30 additional hospital beds, reflecting the growth that community is enjoying. Some of these beds should be operational by the end of the year.
Financially, it has been a more difficult year for all hospitals, including ours. Rarely do we get a rate increase for the services we provide and our payment rates for Medicare are actually going down. With so many Medicare and Medicaid patients in our system we have to work hard to remain financially sound. The best way for us to meet our financial requirements is to stay busy. This year we have had long stretches where we were extremely busy and then we have also had periods where our volumes were below what we had projected. Collecting co-pays and deductibles from patients is also harder than it has ever been and those patient responsibilities continue to rise. Many people now have very high deductible health plans, with the patients being responsible for up to the first $6500, and those high deductibles can be very difficult to collect. The time it takes us to collect on a bill is longer than it has historically been.
The past year has seen great controversy over health care both at the national and state levels. Although the U. S. House of Representatives recently passed a major repeal and replace bill for Obamacare, there is a lot of speculation that the U.S. Senate will create its own solution. One significant concern with the passage of the House bill is the impact on Medicaid. The Congressional Budget Office’s score card has estimated that the number of uninsured Americans will increase to more than 50 million and that $880 billion will be cut from federal funding of Medicaid over the next ten years. For our state and community hospitals like ours, this could be devastating.
Madison County’s first inpatient hospice unit will open in the fall on the campus at Redstone Village. The 15-bed unit is a joint project of Huntsville Hospital, Hospice Family Care, and Redstone Village. Community donations to the Huntsville Hospital Foundation have helped support the development of this special unit.
In Montgomery, the story is more of the same. Sustainable state funding for Alabama Medicaid is a top issue. While the coming year’s funding looks adequate, there is great uncertainty for future funding. This uncertainty in Washington and Montgomery makes it difficult to see how Medicaid’s new managed care delivery approach will work. The Regional Care Organization (RCO) option is scheduled to start in October of this year. As we have previously shared, we have developed Alabama Community Care as an RCO to serve north and west Alabama. We will have to wait and see if we are able to offer this program to Medicaid patients in those communities.
One of the bigger decisions that we have made in many years is to change our computer system at Huntsville Hospital and eventually throughout our Health System. We have selected Cerner as our new electronic medical record, replacing a 14-year-old system from G.E. An incredible amount of work went into the selection of Cerner by our team and even more work is required as we install and train thousands of employees on the new system. Our go-live date is January 1, 2019 and we will need every day until then in this mammoth undertaking.
The purchase of a new IT system is just one of the many major capital investments that we have to make in order to keep your community hospital as one of the best in the nation. Investing in facilities and technology is vital to our future and to the growth of our services. Planning has also begun for the construction of a new bed tower on the Main campus. There are days when we have to place patients in semi-private accommodations because we don’t have enough beds on a specific unit. With a new bed tower we can decrease those situations dramatically and improve the patient and family experience in our hospital.
We certainly need advanced IT systems, updated facilities and the latest technologies; however, the most important element in the care that we provide is a caring staff. It is our goal to serve you and your family with a highly trained team that never forgets the importance of compassion and kindness. Thank you for your support of Huntsville Hospital. It is our privilege to care for you.
David S. Spillers, CEO
Huntsville Hospital Health System