Hospital chiefs discuss health care law’s impact in St. Tammany

Changes in federal health care law are driving providers to band together through mergers or increasing cooperation in programming, a panel of hospital executives told St. Tammany West Chamber members at a luncheon meeting Wednesday.

The Northshore is no exception to this trend, they said.

Hospitals, doctors and other care providers “are trying to get under a big umbrella because people are expecting a bit of a storm,” said Bret Kolman, chief executive officer of Lakeview Regional Medical Center in Mandeville.

The panel, which also included Polly Davenport, CEO of Ochsner Northshore; Patti Ellish, CEO of St. Tammany Parish Hospital; and Steve Blades, CEO of Louisiana Heart Hospital, talked about the changing health care delivery model, technology advancements, reimbursement challenges, and prevention and wellness.

Kolman, who asked participants to indicate on an index card whether they like or dislike the Affordable Healthcare Act, noted that it is 900 pages long and complex.

“I’m pretty certain you can’t hate everything about Obamacare or love everything,” he said. “It’s just too big.”

The law means that 23 million more people who were uninsured will become health care consumers, he said, and that increased demand is one of its challenges.

Kolman says the trend is for health care providers to try to grow, citing a number of corporate consolidations. He pointed to what’s happening in Jefferson Parish, where the two community-built hospitals are moving toward making a deal with a private management company.

“East Jefferson (General Hospital) and West Jefferson (Medical Center) don’t want to go it alone anymore,” he said. “They are looking for a bigger partner.”

Davenport also cited demographics — the aging of the baby boomers — as a factor in the push toward what she described as coordinated care.

Voids in care, such as the national shortage of psychiatrists, will be addressed by things such as telemedicine, she said. For example, a mentally ill patient who arrives in crisis at an emergency room could get a consultation with a psychiatrist located somewhere else via teleconference.

Ellish pointed to a stroke program at St. Tammany Parish Hospital, funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that links doctors at St. Tammany with neurologists at Ochsner, an example of both the role of technology and increasing teamwork.

Panelists said that in the future, not every speciality will be available at every hospital.

They also stressed the fundamental change in health care from a system that focused on sickness to one that focuses on keeping people healthy and out the hospital — a change they said also will require individuals and their employers to take some responsibility, for example, by using wellness programs that encourage people to take better care of themselves.

Doing so will help contain escalating insurance costs, Davenport said, and also reduce losses caused by absenteeism, and what she called presenteeism, when employees come to work sick and are less productive.