Despite the comings and goings of businesses in the Battle Creek area, health care providers seemed to have been a stable presence.
Still, uncertainty surrounds the next 10 years as hospital systems look ahead and work to figure out how to contend with changing insurance laws, provider shortages and more.
Oaklawn Hospital President and CEO Ginger Williams said, though, that these aren’t new challenges and have been given a lot of thought over the last few years.
“There’s been so much turmoil and so much uncertainty in the health care industry that it risks pulling us all a little off course as we’re just trying to stay afloat, while we’re trying to navigate all of the legislative changes,” Williams said.
Oaklawn, a Marshall-based hospital, is one of the three main hospital systems in Calhoun County. Kalamazoo’s two systems, Bronson Healthcare and Borgess Health, both have a big presence here.
Bronson Battle Creek is the city’s only full hospital and will become a teaching hospital when its new residency training program is approved. The program is a partnership between Bronson, Western Michigan University’s Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine and Battle Creek-based Grace Health, a federally qualified health center.
The first class at Bronson Battle Creek could begin by 2018, the Enquirer reported in November.
Bronson will further expand its Battle Creek presence when its 14,000-square-foot facility, Bronson Family Medicine at 2900 Watkins Road, opens in the spring.
Borgess has established the Borgess Health Park in Battle Creek and formed a partnership with Oaklawn, which was announced in June as THINK Health. Borgess is part of Ascension, a Catholic health care system.
The THINK Health partnership, which is not a merger, will expand the existing ways the two hospital systems work together, they said in a joint announcement at the time. No new building plans connected to the partnership were immediately announced.
As all the hospitals maneuver to provide the best care and draw in more patients, though, they face many of the same challenges.
The ongoing doctor shortage
According to a study commissioned by the American Association of Medical Colleges, there will be an expected shortfall of physicians of 61,700 to 94,700 nationally by 2025, many of those in primary care.
Bronson President and CEO Frank Sardone said he’s optimistic about his system’s ability to attract physicians.
“We also do a lot of work making sure that, operationally, the practice works well for the physician,” Sardone said. “We’ve introduced many changes, one of them being the electronic medical record, Epic, and that’s fully implemented now throughout the Bronson system. It’s a way to facilitate communications between physicians, between organizations.”
If medical students are deciding to go into specialties, which are more financially rewarding, it can be difficult to change their minds.
Borgess President and CEO Kathy Young said hospitals must work with medical students on decreasing their debt and making primary care more attractive to students.
“It’s the less glamorous work of a doctor,” Young said. “But it’s the foundation that the whole health care system is built on. But it is not a specialty that people are choosing at the same rate as they are other specialties today.”
Young also said that because fewer students are choosing to go into internal medicine, there’s a gap being created that patients who have complex problems are falling through.
“So we’re starting to really explore, is there a family practice specialty that really deals with medically complex patients and how do we prepare our physicians to do that,” Young said.
At Oaklawn, Williams said the Marshall hospital’s recruiting has been successful and they’ve eased off on it for now. Still, she said, there needs to be more effort from Michigan in passing legislation when it comes to allowing mid-level providers, such as physician’s assistants and certified registered nurse anesthetists.
“They have now expanded nurse practitioners and PAs so they can function more at a level where they should,” Williams said. “CRNAs, they have not yet and it’s hurting hospitals. It’s hurting care delivery.”
While hospital CEOs might be as uncertain about what Congress will end up doing about the Affordable Care Act as the rest of us – Sardone joked that he forgot his crystal ball – they do think their systems are flexible enough to respond to the changing legal landscape.
Sardone said things might move slowly, however.
Story continues below photo.
“You initially heard the cries to appeal the Affordable Care Act and I think that’s been tempered recently, and it may be a year or more before there’s a major change,” Sardone said.
In fact, Williams said, the health care system is too large to move quickly.
“You can’t take away hundreds of millions of dollars of giveaways,” Williams said. “You can’t take that away overnight. You can’t do it because systems have been built around that. I think they’ll change, but they’ll have some heads-up as to how they’re going to be changing before they actually change.”
The Healthy Michigan Plan, the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program under the ACA, has more than 650,000 people enrolled. State residents who are not eligible for Medicare and live at up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line can enroll at www.mibridges.michigan.gov/access.
“If it is going to be repeal, delay and replace, which is kind of what we’re thinking – it’s going to take a while for them to build their system – we really do have to have a process by which we preserve the safety net,” Young said. “We can’t let people fall through.”
What kind of care will we need?
As the next decade unfolds, the local population will change; in particular, we’re getting older. That will alter the health care industry in this area when it comes to prioritizing what services will be offered and when.
According to data compiled by The Coordinating Council of Calhoun County, about 21 percent of county residents are 60 or older. Over the next 10 years, the report said, the population of older adults will outnumber children younger than 18.
“The things that we’ve been seeing in the last few years increasing I think for the next decade or so will increase more, until we get past the generation that’s currently aging into that bucket,” Williams said. “Orthopedics, joint replacements, just because of the aging population.”
That also includes, Williams said, a greater need for treatment of conditions such as kidney and heart disease.
Sardone echoed Williams’ comments.
“The incidence of cardiac disease continues to increase,” Sardone said. “Oncology, cancer, the incidents in discovery rates continues to increase. In all of these areas, there’s an evolution of the best plan to approach these disease.”
Story continues below photo
That, Sardone said, will include new ways of using technology that’s in the hands of patients such as electronic “visits” with doctors and greater data sharing.
“So we’re putting a lot of time and effort into making sure we have the right approach to connect electronically with patients,” Sardone said.
Young, while sitting in a board room on the expansive Borgess campus on Gull Road in Kalamazoo, said such a layout can be a challenge in some ways.
“As health care looks forward,” Young said, “we are really challenged to say, ‘how do we bring health care to our customers, to our patients, to their families, and how do we move from a health care system that waits for you to get sick to a health care system that is building a day-to-day relationship around healthy behaviors and habits that frankly will change the needs for health care in the future?'”
Read or Share this story: http://bcene.ws/2mHbcB1
Health care growing in Battle Creek