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Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.

Iowa News

Iowa counties foresee cuts in mental health
Mental health administrators in some Iowa counties say they most likely will have to cut services soon because the state is planning to spend much less money than expected to help counties make the transition to a new regional mental health system. State administrators are recommending that Polk County and most other counties get nothing from the transition fund. They’re proposing that the Legislature put less than $1.5 million into the fund, which county officials say is not nearly enough. (Iowa City Press-Citizen)

Medication shortage impacts eastern Iowans
As the Director of Pharmacy at Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo, John Hamiel knows how important it is for patients to get the prescriptions they need. But a drug shortage is making it tough to fill some of them. “Regulations that the FDA is putting out and enforcing is really putting more pressure on the drug companies to behave themselves which is all good for public safety but bad for drug access,” said John Hamiel. (KWWL)

National News

Boehner abandons plan to avoid ‘fiscal cliff’
House Speaker John A. Boehner threw efforts to avoid the year-end “fiscal cliff” into chaos late Thursday, as he abruptly shuttered the House for the holidays after failing to win support from his fellow Republicans for a plan to let tax rates rise for millionaires. The proposal — Boehner’s alternative to negotiating a broader package with President Obama — would have protected the vast majority of Americans from significant tax increases set to take effect next year. But because it also would have permitted tax rates to rise for about 400,000 extremely wealthy families, conservatives balked, leaving Boehner humiliated and his negotiating power immeasurably weakened. (Washington Post)

Medicare discloses hospitals’ quality bonuses, penalties
Medicare on Thursday disclosed bonuses and penalties for nearly 3,000 hospitals as it ties almost $1 billion in payments to the quality of care provided to patients. The revised payments, which will begin in January, mark the federal government’s most extensive effort yet to hold hospitals financially accountable for what happens to patients. In what amounts to a nationwide competition, Medicare compared hospitals on how faithfully they followed rudimentary standards of care and how patients rated their experiences. (Kaiser Health News)

Next challenge for the health law: Getting the public to buy in
On its face, the low-key discussion around a conference table in Miami last month did not appear to have national implications. Eight men and women, including a diner owner, a chef and a real estate agent, answered questions about why they had no health insurance and what might persuade them to buy it. But this focus group, along with nine others held around the country in November, was an important tool for advocates coming up with a campaign to educate Americans about the new health care law. (New York Times)

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Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.

Iowa News

Mental health: Improving Iowa’s system
Iowa lawmakers have been working on a way to redesign Iowa’s mental health services for several years, but their work just found new urgency.  “I am very proud of Iowa for being ahead of the curve nationwide for having this conversation before tragedy struck and start moving in a positive direction,” said Representative Renee Schulte. They don’t know how the Connecticut school shooter’s mental illness may have guided his massacre on classrooms of children, they do know it’s a reminder they can’t do enough to help troubled people. (WHO-TV)

County officials say they need transition money for Iowa mental-health redesign
State budget makers will be facing pressure to spend money early in the 2013 legislative session to cover Medicaid and mental health costs through June 30 even before they tackle expanding needs in the fiscal 2014 state spending plan. County officials say they need millions of transition dollars in the next six months to make the switch to a regional delivery system for equalized mental-health services or they will be forced to reduce their help for recipients or create waiting lists to receive services. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

National News

Obama’s new fiscal cliff offer would repeal the ‘doc-fix’
In the White House’s latest “fiscal cliff” offer to House Speaker John Boehner, President Obama proposed a permanent repeal of Medicare’s sustainable growth rate alongside $400 billion health care savings, according to a source familiar with the talks. A permanent fix would come with a $245 billion price tag and it’s still unclear how—or if—Congress would pay for a policy meant to stabilize doctor salaries. It’s hard to find anyone in Washington who likes the doc-fix: Not Republicans, not Democrats and especially not health care economists. (Washington Post)

Will physician shortage raise family medicine’s profile?
The July opening of the Dept. of Family Medicine and Community Health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York marked a change in perspective for the 44-year-old school. Previously, it had been on a short list of U.S. medical schools without a family medicine department. But Mount Sinai officials say the new department represents the school’s commitment to strengthening the primary care work force to help meet the nation’s future health care needs. (American Medical News)

Massachusetts will hit ‘high-cost’ hospitals with new tax
Not-for-profit hospitals in the Bay State are grappling with a new tax on revenue, with at least one major health system posting a quarterly loss because of the expected fees. The tax is part of a broader health care cost-containment law enacted by Massachusetts this summer. Among other provisions, the law calls for the state to tax hospitals and health systems with more than $1 billion in assets and collect less than half of their revenue from public payers, like Medicare and Medicaid. (The Advisory Board)

Encryption shortfalls plague health care industry
Healthcare providers should start paying more attention to encryption of personal health information, says a new report from the Health Information Management and Systems Society. This is not only because of the proliferation of smartphones and other mobile devices, but also because of a provision in the Meaningful Use Stage 2 rule that mentions encryption. (InformationWeek)

The future of medical innovation and commercialization
Innovation has been a driving force behind health care from the beginning, yet with the U.S. health care system in the midst of an unprecedented transformation and a focus on lowering costs, many are asking, “What will become of innovation?” The answer to that question is also a potential solution for hospitals facing financial pressures – a solution that has the power to improve patient care as well. (The Health Care Blog)

Make your hospital website an asset, not a liability
Over the past two years I served as interim senior vice president for Marketing, Branding and Culture Change at Hurley Medical Center, a 443-bed public, nonprofit, teaching medical center in Flint, Mich. One of the major challenges was how to reimagine the medical center’s content marketing and overall Internet strategy. As in so many institutions, the website had been built around 2005 and served very much as “brochure-ware” with limited updates, few changes and certainly no strategy for brand development or community building. So, we began. (Hospital Impact)

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Iowans are well known for their generosity and results from the new Volunteering and Civic Engagement Survey quantify their willingness to serve.  According to the survey, 38.4 percent of Iowans volunteer, ranking the state third in the nation (behind Utah’s 40.9 percent and Idaho’s 38.8 percent).  Most Iowans who volunteer give their time at churches (about 48 percent) and schools (about 13 percent), but the next largest group (about 9 percent) dedicate themselves to health care.

IHA collects data on how volunteers impact our hospitals and their contributions are significant.  More than 38,000 adults and teens volunteer at Iowa’s 118 community hospitals, contributing 1.6 million hours in 2011.  Volunteers also collected and donated more than $5.2 million for Iowa hospitals, including nearly $400,000 in scholarship funds.

Who are these generous people?  We’ve profiled three outstanding volunteers below.  They are among Iowa hospitals’  “Shining Star” volunteers, a designation recognized each year at the IHA Annual Meeting.

Gert Patterson
Lucas County Health Center, Chariton

Gert has been a loyal volunteer for the Lucas County Health Center and her community for more than 30 years. Her accomplishments have included but are by no means limited to serving in officers positions in the hospital auxiliary, as a gift shop buyer and displayer and most recently as a waiting room ambassador.  Gert has received several local awards, including Citizen of the Year and the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award, for 4,000 hours of volunteer service to her community in her lifetime.  Gert has transported patients to doctors’ appointments both local and non-local. Her hobbies have overflowed in her volunteer work as well. As a Master Gardner she has lent her expertise to the hospital, her church and several community gardens by doing landscaping and planting her favorite plant, the Hosta. Gert shares her love for these flowering beauties every spring by hosting a plant sale for all to attend.  She is active in her church and still works part-time for a senior housing development in Chariton.

Brittany Bruch
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City

Brittany began volunteering at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in 2008, spending time in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Inpatient Tutoring unit. Her contributions as a volunteer were highly regarded and her performance earned her a position on the College Student Leader Board, a select group of 20 students responsible for the orientation, training and work schedules our 800 college student volunteers each year.  Brittany’s time as a board member was spent overseeing our educational services volunteer placements.  This division of UI Rehabilitation Therapies provides education and clinical speech and language services to patients of our child and adolescent psychiatry service through Circle School, in addition, a tutoring service is available for all children ages 3-18 who miss more than one week of school because of extended care at UI Hospitals and Clinics.  Brittany coordinated the dozens of volunteers helping to support these services.  Brittany’s admirable record here earned her the position of chairperson of the College Student Leader Board, the highest leadership position in the program.

Bob and Ann Crouse
Grundy County Memorial Hospital, Grundy Center

Bob and Ann have volunteered at Grundy County Memorial Hospital since 2005.  They exemplify a willingness to help in all aspects of our volunteer program.  For example, when the hospital’s long term care unit purchased new clothing protectors for residents for mealtimes this past winter, they needed extra sewing. Ann not only pitched in to help on the project, she ended up completing more than 700 of the clothing protectors on her own! Ann has also staffed our welcome desk, while Bob put his skills as a retired educator to work on computer projects for the hospital. Currently Ann is a regular in the hospital’s long term care area, where she can be found helping with manicures for residents and other activities.  Together, Bob and Ann perform a valuable service for the hospital’s dietary department.  Twice weekly the couple stocks the hospital vending machines with beverages and snacks for visitors and staff.  Their positive nature and quiet helpfulness shine each time they volunteer no matter what the task.

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Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.

Iowa News

Flu: More cases diagnosed early in season
There are more cases of the flu across the state of Iowa, according to Patricia Quinlisk, state epidemiologist. There are also more outbreaks of flu in the state, compared to a year ago, she said. Locally, providers at Floyd Valley Hospital’s Family Medicine Clinics treated the first case of flu in late September, according to Kari VanDam, registered nurse and wellness coordinator. “After talking with the lab, we’ve had 50 confirmed cases of flu,” VanDam said. “This early in the year, that’s a high number.” (Le Mars Daily Sentinel)

West Burlington hospital achieves Energy Star status
Interstate Power and Light Company, an Alliant Energy company, is recognizing Great River Medical Center (GRMC) in West Burlington as a leader in energy-efficient work in Iowa, and the country. This year, GRMC applied for and received an Energy Star rating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. After years of work to reduce energy use and implement efficient strategies, the hospital achieved a top score of 100 on the EPA’s Energy Star performance scale. (Electric Light and Power/Power Grid International)

Guttenberg hospital acquires clinics
After two years of planning, the Guttenberg Municipal Hospital has acquired the Family Medicine Associates system of clinics in Clayton County. (Dubuque Telegraph Herald)

National News

After Newtown shootings, questions about mental health insurance
On Monday White House spokesman Jay Carney pointed to the federal health law as evidence that the administration has already started to tackle the issue. Mental health issues are “clearly a factor that needs to be addressed in some of these cases of horrific violence,” Carney said. “Obamacare, if you will, has ensured that mental health services are a part of the services” provided under the health care law. (Kaiser Health News)

Colorado governor pitches mental health system overhaul
Colorado would streamline involuntary mental health commitments and speed that information to gun-sale registries as part of a comprehensive, $18.5 million psychiatric overhaul aimed at preventing future violence and improving care in a package of proposals announced by Gov. John Hickenlooper Tuesday. Mental health advocates in the state hailed what they say is a desperately-needed bolstering of emergency psychiatric services and laws. They said civil commitments could be simplified while still protecting patient rights, and that the spending package to increase emergency beds and evaluations is the right approach. (Denver Post)

Obamacare: ‘It’s a massive, nine-month sprint’
The Obama administration last week gave eight states and the District of Columbia con­ditional approval to operate health insurance exchanges, the online marketplaces where consumers will use federal subsidies to purchase insurance policies. The designation recognizes that these states have made enough progress to hit a crucial deadline: launching for open enrollment on Oct. 1, 2013. The exchanges will also need to begin collecting subsidies in January 2014. Most states have opted not to take full control of their insurance exchanges. (Washington Post)

‘Not one successful EHR system in the whole world’
While federal health IT officials were touting the perceived successes of their efforts to increase physician usage of electronic health records (EHRs), one longtime advocate of EHRs was criticizing the whole direction of health IT policy. “In my opinion, there is not one successful EHR system in the whole world,” said C. Peter Waegemann, who founded and ran the Boston-based Medical Records Institute from 1984 to 2009. “User friendliness, usability, and interoperability are not there,” he added in an interview. (InformationWeek)

Health care workers don’t always practice what they preach
One presumes health care workers have much healthier behaviors than the general population because they know better, but that’s far from the case, especially in areas of weight control, binge drinking and cigarette smoking. “If you go down the list, in most cases, healthcare workers are no better than anybody else,” says Kenneth Mukamal, MD, a researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and principal author of a research letter entitled in part, “Do Health Care Workers Practice What they Preach?” (HealthLeaders News)

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Featuring hospital and health care headlines from the media and the Web.

Iowa News

Iowa would forfeit resources without Medicaid expansion
In the last decade, leaders from Iowa hospitals, industries, insurance companies and government have fought to correct some of the inequities inherent in Medicare payment policies. Today, Iowa’s political leaders have the opportunity to stop further disenfranchisement of our state by unilaterally accepting the single greatest opportunity to reshape our health care infrastructure since the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid. Let’s not forfeit more power and resources to other states. For the betterment of Iowa’s health and economic future, we cannot let this moment pass. (Des Moines Register)

Consultant: Medicaid expansion would save Iowa millions at first, cost down the road
Expanding the Medicaid health-insurance program would save Iowa tens of millions of dollars for a few years, then cost the state tens of millions more in the future, a consultant has concluded. The report by Milliman Inc. is the latest development in an argument between Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican who doesn’t want to expand the program, and Democratic legislators who do. (Des Moines Register)

Nurses struggle to place mental health patients
As medical professionals across Iowa await sweeping and complex changes in mental health care services to take full effect next year, local nurses are caught in a daily scramble searching for a place to put their patients. “The average time it takes to find a hospital bed is between two and four hours,” said Linda Cockrell, an emergency unit nurse at Keokuk Area Hospital. Cockrell said she’s seen one patient wait 36 hours for a transfer. When suicidal or potentially dangerous patients land in emergency rooms, nurses spend considerable time calling a list of hospitals, both in state and out, just looking for an available bed. (Associated Press)

National News

States lean on feds for health insurance exchanges
The federal government will run more health insurance exchanges as they come online next year than states. On Friday, both Virginia and Florida rejected running their own exchanges, just hours before the midnight deadline for states to officially declare whether or not they would set up their own insurance exchange or get some amount of help from the federal government. (HealthLeaders News)

Hospital systems branch out as insurers
A growing number of hospital systems are moving to start their own insurance plans, aiming to broaden their roles and prepare for the changes coming under the federal health-care overhaul. Piedmont Healthcare and WellStar Health System, both in the Atlanta area, are set to announce a jointly owned insurance arm, with the goal of marketing coverage to employers and Medicare recipients in 2014. They also will consider selling coverage on a health exchange, one of the online insurance marketplaces required in each state by the health-overhaul law. (Wall Street Journal)

Autonomy or employment — doctors must not be forced to choose
It may seem like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting: A doctor hangs up his shingle, opens a practice and begins filling his waiting room with patients. For years, it was a rite of passage for physicians when they began practicing medicine. But this image is fading as more doctors enter medicine as employed physicians or practicing physicians make the switch to employee. Recent research paints a picture of how doctors are pursuing employment at hospitals, group practices and other delivery systems, driven by business pressures and the cost of operating a practice. (American Medical News)

Not enough specialists for California poor
Doctors say meeting new government mandates to keep patients healthy and out of hospitals—a linchpin in reducing medical spending—will be virtually impossible without the ability to make timely patient appointments with specialists. By the end of the decade, the nation will be short more than 46,000 surgeons and specialists, a nearly tenfold increase from 2010, according to the Assn. of American Medical Colleges. Healthcare reform is expected to worsen the problem as more patients—many with complex and deferred health needs—become insured and seek specialized treatment. (Los Angeles Times)

Bay Area nurses to strike day before Christmas
Thousands of registered nurses will walk off the job Christmas Eve at nine San Francisco Bay Area hospitals, where administrators and a nurses union are locked in a lingering dispute, a union official said Saturday. Nurses and X-ray technicians represented by the California Nurses Association will begin a one-day strike on the morning of Dec. 24 at seven hospitals operated by Sutter Health and at two San Jose hospitals affiliated with the Hospital Corporation of America, said union spokesman Chuck Idelson. (Associated Press /Silicon Valley Mercy News)

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