Spokane Journal of Business

Health care industry looks to improve access

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Health care administrators in the Inland Northwest say 2018 has been a growth year for the industry, particularly in the areas of technology and mental health, as organizations focus on tools to enhance patient experiences and improve access to care in the coming year.

Providence St. Joseph Health, the Inland Northwest’s largest provider network, continues to do well here in Spokane both financially and in terms of the quality of care it offers, claims Elaine Couture, the regional chief executive of Providence Health & Services.

“We continue to see many patients using inpatient services, but this year, we’ve added a lot to our outpatient services with the addition of several new Express Care clinics and other options for patients who don’t require as intensive treatment,” she says.

Providence has opened a new outpatient behavioral health program called Resources, Insight, Support and Empowerment for adults and adolescents, and is collaborating with Fairfax Behavioral Health to open a new 100-bed psychiatric hospital here.

Couture says Providence plans to continue focusing on behavioral health, treatment of chronic illnesses, preventive care, and digitalization of health care services in 2019.

“This is a time for focusing not just on acute care but also on helping people understand their DNA and how they can help prevent development of certain conditions,” she says. “We’re also looking at how health care services are delivered and ensuring patients have easier, more personalized access to the care they need.”

Spokane’s other major health care provider, Tacoma, Wash.-based nonprofit MultiCare Health System, also has seen an eventful year, according to David O’Brien, senior vice president and chief executive for MultiCare’s east region.

“This year, we successfully implemented the Epic medical record system, introduced several new Indigo Urgent Care facilities to Spokane, and added Spokane Internal Medicine into our network,” he says.

O’Brien says the biggest health care trend nationally this year has been the number of health organizations choosing to merge.

“We’ve seen this on a local level as Deaconess, Rockwood Clinic, and the Valley Hospital have become members of the MultiCare family,” he says. “MultiCare has also recognized a need for increased access to care and that continues to be a focal point for us.”

Looking ahead, O’Brien says MultiCare will grow its Indigo Urgent Care centers and increase access to primary care services to meet the needs of the community.

In North Idaho, Kootenai Health CEO Jon Ness says the Coeur d’Alene-based health network has focused this year on keeping pace with the growing community.

“Kootenai County continues to grow even faster than we’d projected at our start,” he says. “Since 2012, we’ve invested over $250 million in new or expanded facilities and technology and grown our employees from 1,900 to 3,300 today.”

In 2018, Kootenai County continued to see a large number of retirees moving to the area, many of whom are Medicare patients, Ness says.

“As a community-owned, independent facility, Kootenai Health is often negatively impacted by reductions in reimbursement for Medicare patients,” he says. “We’re seeing more Medicare patients, but receiving less reimbursement for their care, so it’s an issue we continue to struggle with.”

Next year, Ness says, Kootenai Health will continue to expand its outpatient services, invest in its physician practice, and begin the transition to the Epic electronic medical records system, a process it expects to complete by 2021.

Also planned for next year, Ness says, is a new 20-room hospitality center on the Kootenai Health hospital campus in Coeur d’Alene that will be managed by Ronald McDonald House Charities.

He says the Spokane office of Katerra Inc. has begun construction on the project, which is expected to be completed by summer.

Ness says one of the biggest changes ahead for Kootenai Health in the coming year will be Idaho’s recently approved Medicaid expansion.

“In early 2019, the state Legislature and the governor will be looking at how to fund the state’s share of Medicaid expansion,” he says. “We’ll be watching closely to make sure we understand when that will take effect and what it will mean for patients.”

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

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