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Vail Valley Medical Center CEO: Health Reform Will Create Problems

Vail Daily

Vail Valley Medical Center's top executive Wednesday said thecenter is in strong financial condition and will stay independent.But she added national health care reform is creating a host ofnew and expensive potential problems in the near future.

Medical center CEO Doris Kirchner made those remarks Wednesday inan annual "state of the medical center" address at the Sonnenalp inVail. The address will be repeated Feb. 16 in Gypsum.

Kirchner gave an overview of the hospital's philosophy facilitiesand financial picture during the presentation. The medical center'sfinancial picture has improved over the last few years Kirchnersaid with net revenue increasing salaries and benefits droppingand the "margin" - not "profit" since the hospital is a nonprofitorganization - more than doubling from 2009 in both 2010 and2011.

The medical center is also a safer place than it's been in thepast. Kirchner said the infection rate for new surgical patients is.38 percent and .42 percent overall. The federal Centers forDisease Control puts any rate below 1 percent into a "less thanexpected" category. Kirchner said that improvement comes from a setof policies that range from the technical to the simple - there arehand-sanitizing stations throughout the hospital and employees areencouraged to use them even if they never touch a patient.

Talking about the medical center's mission Kirchner stressed thegoal to remain independent so decisions about patient care canremain in the hands of local residents.

While Kirchner said the medical center is well-positioned toremain independent that's going to be more difficult in the nextfew years especially as the requirements of 2010's federal healthcare reform bill kick in.

One of the biggest expenses for hospitals is the requirement tomove to electronic health records. Kirchner said that's a worthygoal - it can reduce mistakes and speed care in urgent cases. Butshe said making the switch is also very expensive to the tune ofmany millions of dollars per hospital. Just that part of healthcare legislation is forcing many small-town hospitals into mergerswith bigger companies.

Federal health care legislation will also almost certainly reducethe amount of money hospitals and clinics receive for treatingpatients in Medicaid and Medicare programs.

Since Vail Valley Medical Center already collects less than 25percent of the costs of treating Medicaid patients that's going totake money from an already-shaky financial model.

The medical center puts millions every year into subsidizingunderinsured and uninsured patients from the Eagle Care Clinic formostly low-income residents to financial arrangements made withpeople who have a hard time paying off either high insurancedeductibles or other bills.

Ultimately though Kirchner said "I don't think there's an easyout for those with $5000 deductibles."

During a question and comment session after Kirchner'spresentation Vail resident Kathy Langenwalter said she's heardfrom other residents who are having tests and procedures done inother communities to save money.

Charlie Crevling the medical center's chief financial officersaid the hospital uses prices from other regional hospitals aswell as Lutheran Medical Center in Denver to help set itsprices.

"We stack up very well in those cases" Crevling said.

Still just about any medical care is expensive something thatisn't changing any time soon. But in many cases people fromoutside the valley are driving a good deal of the medical center'sgrowth. That growth from the Shaw Regional Cancer Center theSteadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute hasled to negotiations and planning for a new medical office buildingon town of Vail property near the current town hall. If and whenthat building is finished it will free up nearly 35000 squarefeet of space in the current hospital building Kirchnersaid.

Combining that available space with plans that include ways to getambulance traffic off Meadow Drive will help the Vail hospitalthrive into the future Kirchner said.

"We're cognizant of all these changes" Kirchner said. "We'll meetwhatever comes our way."