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Health care systems get in shape

Health systems spend hundreds of millions to bring efficiencies, improve patient experience

May 15, 2013
 
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Justin Schmitz, an ironworker with Wisconsin Rebar out of Brillion, ties a rebar cage that will be lowered into a caisson for a bed tower foundation last month at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton. The hospital has been undergoing extensive renovations since 2006 as part of a modernization project. / Dan Powers/Post-Crescent Media

Hospital spending

Menasha-based Affinity Health System and ThedaCare, based in Appleton, combined have invested about $295 million to update and modernize three Fox Cities hospitals.
ThedaCare projects ($90 million)
• Appleton Medical Center: New eight-story, 112-room bed tower (opened July 2010)
• Theda Clark Medical Center, Neenah: 164 inpatient rooms to be updated
St. Elizabeth Hospital ($205 million)
• New parking deck and front entrance
• New heart, lung and vascular center
• New emergency department
• Renovated cancer center and behavioral health inpatient unit
• New outpatient rehabilitation department, breast center and renovated birth unit
• New five-story, 90-bed addition

More

Projects amounting to nearly $300 million at three Fox Cities hospitals are focused on encouraging doctors to work together to deliver high-quality, customized care to patients from admission to discharge, health care leaders say.

Working smarter should help medical providers cater to a growing population — with more of an emphasis on caring for the elderly and treating people with cardiovascular diseases and cancer, the leading causes of death in the U.S.

Providers must be prepared to meet the needs of the nation’s aging population, said Chad Cotti, an associate professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Population forecasts show Calumet and Outagamie counties are among the two fastest-growing areas of the state. Growth of 45 percent and 34 percent, respectively, is predicted between 2000 and 2030. By 2035, the state projects that people 65 and older will comprise at least 15 percent of the population in every county.

Cotti said hip and knee replacement — along with enhanced heart care and cancer treatment — cater to a growing elderly population. Specializing can help health care systems differentiate themselves in the marketplace, he said.

“In a sense, people make choices in what hospitals they choose to receive care,” said Cotti, who referred to the Kennedy Center for the Hip and Knee at Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh, which is operated by Affinity, as an example.

“If someone needs a hip or knee replacement, the Kennedy Center may come to mind first,” Cotti said. If you’re thinking about a target group for hip and knee replacements, it’s senior citizens.”

Travis Andersen, president of St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton, said Affinity Health System, which owns St. E’s, has directed resources to cardiovascular and cancer services based on community need.

“When you think about it, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death,” he said. “Cancer is the nation’s No. 2 cause of death.”

Hospital modernization

Menasha-based Affinity has invested more than $205 million to update and renovate St. E’s. Work began in 2006 with the construction of a new front entrance and parking lot.

The project includes a new heart, lung and vascular center, an updated emergency department, a new outpatient rehabilitation department, a breast care center and a renovated birth unit. Construction will wrap up in early 2015 with a $79.5 million, five-story, 90-patient bed addition.

Meanwhile, ThedaCare, based in Appleton, recently spent $90 million to update Appleton Medical Center and Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah. Of that, $45 million was for an eight-story, 112-room bed tower at AMC that opened to patients in July 2010.

The renovations at both health care systems are intended to provide patients with a positive experience, reduce errors and lower costs.

“We just couldn’t take our old processes and just wrap a new facility around it,” Andersen said. “Everything we’ve done has been done with the patient in mind and to make sure we’re creating a healing environment.”

ThedaCare began refining its patient care procedures in 2007 to incorporate lean manufacturing and efficiency methods. It also reconfigured patient rooms to maximize its new processes, said Kim Barnas, ThedaCare’s senior vice president, who oversees daily operations at AMC and Theda Clark.

“Our redesigned rooms are oriented to help our nurses work as efficiently as possible and deliver the best care we can to our patients,” Barnas said. “It keeps the patient safer and it’s more respectful to the patient and nurses because (the nurses) shouldn’t have to leave the room for supplies or medications.”

Providers say modernization is necessary to lower costs.

Affinity and ThedaCare are paying for the projects with money from operating budgets along with private financing and philanthropic gifts.

Stephen Brenton, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Hospital Association, said roughly 7 percent of a hospital’s expenses relate to capital spending. “Capital spending, including facility modernization, is seen as a normal cost of doing business,” he said.

Updating facilities usually translates into a good return on investment, said Brenton, who added that those using hospital services ultimately are paying for a provider’s capital expenses.

“(They) pay for capital spending in health care and virtually every other purchase (including) food, energy, etc.,” Brenton said. “I do believe that many hospital systems increasingly believe that their spending on facilities will have a return on investment for their purchasers through reduced energy expense and more efficient delivery processes.”

Improving the patient experience

ThedaCare’s renovations to inpatient rooms reflect its team approach to devising treatment plans for patients.

A total of 164 inpatient beds have been updated at Theda Clark. Another dozen or so rooms should be renovated this year.

Barnas said the upgraded rooms maintain medications with patients. Equipment and supplies are stored in the same location to help nurses work more efficiently.

The updates are expected to meet ThedaCare’s needs for the next three decades.

Upgrades at St. E’s, which are expected to meet its needs for the next 40 years, also were designed to improve the patient experience.

Its new emergency department, which opened in fall 2011 with an entrance facing Oneida Street, features private patient suites equipped with the latest technology. Patient surveys suggested updates and more privacy.

“We learned what we needed to do to get better by listening,” Andersen said. “If you go back more than a decade when we started the planning for our renovations, we set forth and made the decision we wanted to be in this part of Appleton and very systematically came up with a campus master plan.”

— Larry Avila: 920-993-1000, ext. 292, or lavila@postcrescent.com; on Twitter @LarryAvila

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