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

Iowa News

Budget ordeal hints at more combative Iowa Capitol
Iowa elected officials pride themselves on working in a politically divided government that still gets things done. But after a combative budget process, capped with several vetoes by Gov. Terry Branstad, some are questioning how well the system is working these days. Simply put, is Iowa politics becoming more like Washington? “If you look at the length of the session and the actions by Governor Branstad, there’s more evidence of Washington-style politics, which I think is unfortunate,” said Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls. (Des Moines Register)

Cherokee residents uneasy after state axes 2 mental health sites
Changes in the way Iowa delivers mental health services have caused residents of this Northwest Iowa community to wonder — and worry about — whether the Mental Health Institute that dominates the town’s western landscape will continue to be one of its major employees. Anxiety rippled through Cherokee in 2009, when state officials looked into getting rid of one of four mental health institutes in Iowa. The facility, which has treated patients for 113 years, survived another look at cuts this year, when two of the four were shuttered. (Sioux City Journal)

Doulas support, aid mothers during the birth process
A doula — a Greek word that means female servant — is a birth companion, who supports both partners throughout the birth process. They can answer questions, advocate for the mother in the delivery room and provide emotional and physical support throughout the pregnancy and delivery. Unlike midwives, doulas do not provide medical care and do not deliver babies. But they do help the mother and her partner in other ways — by providing information, helping develop a birth plan and offering comfort options during labor such as back rubs and labor positions. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

National News

As Obamacare takes hold, unpaid hospital bills vanish
As hospital operators begin to report second period earnings — the sixth consecutive quarter of new revenue from once uninsured patients — the number and size of unpaid medical bills continues to fall thanks to the Affordable Care Act. The health law last year began to provide subsidized private health insurance coverage on public exchanges and expanded Medicaid for poor Americans. With increasing numbers signing up to private coverage and more states opting to expand Medicaid in the last 18 months, hospital companies are seeing expenses for charity and uncompensated care fall. (Forbes)

45 states fail on price transparency laws
In New Hampshire, payers and providers more easily accepted transparency because the website’s’ methodology uses bundled rates, which do not allow the website user to know everything about the underlying fee schedules or the payer-provider contract terms. Payer-provider contract terms are one of the reasons given for not wanting the costs of specific procedures listed on transparency websites. (HealthLeaders Media)

Oklahoma rural hospitals in critical condition
Oklahoma rural hospitals are under financial siege. “It’s very scary right now,” said hospital consultant Val Schott, 71. About 56 percent of Oklahoma’s rural hospitals operated at a financial loss between 2009 and 2013. Drumright Regional Hospital was one of five Oklahoma hospitals that were part of the HMC/CAH Consolidated Inc. group that went through a bankruptcy reorganization that began in 2011. Seven have been involved in bankruptcy reorganizations since 2011. (Oklahoma City Oklahoman)

Alabama’s rural hospitals in critical condition
An ambulance carrying a person with stroke symptoms backs up the emergency room on summer morning at Wedowee Hospital. The tiny, red brick hospital is the closest hospital for about 45 miles in this rural stretch of east Alabama. “We have had people who would not have survived if we hadn’t been here,” said emergency room physician Dr. Jose Oblena. The hospital could also be the next hospital to be shuttered as rural hospitals struggle to survive. (Associated Press/Gulfport Sun Herald)

For patients in transition, Newport Beach offers new type of health care
The woman was just a few days out of the hospital, and her oxygen machine had been set to dangerously high levels. A week-old bottle of medicine was unopened on the counter, and a quick assessment revealed that the woman had gained an unhealthy amount of weight. Enter transitional care, a new category of health care under Medicare, ushered in by the Affordable Care Act. (Orange County Register)

Hospital marketing departments expand with focus on data, social
The digital transformation in healthcare is having a big effect on hospital marketing departments. Large or small, for-profit or nonprofit, hospital marketing staffs are reinventing themselves with ‘precision marketing’. Using social media, web technologies and data analytics, healthcare marketing professionals can engage current patients, future patients, and the broader community in ways like never before. (Healthcare Finance News)

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

Iowa News

Advocates: Keep remaining Iowa mental health hospitals open
Advocates delivered a petition with more than 5,100 signatures to Gov. Terry Branstad’s office Thursday, urging him to keep the two remaining state mental health hospitals open. Aubreeanna Dolan, a West Des Moines resident, started the petition on MoveOn.org after Branstad suggested earlier in July he’s open to closing the mental hospitals in Independence and Cherokee. Branstad this year shuttered state-run hospitals in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda, a move that sparked a lawsuit from Democratic legislators and the state’s largest public employees union. (Des Moines Register)

In Britt, all-around care, all-around the clock
Hancock County Health System is launching a new program meant to keep skilled doctors on hand all hours of the day. The hospital is the first in the state to partner with the Rural Physicians Group, which provides physicians to rural areas around the country. The program uses a more personal model by assigning doctors to certain locations for as many as seven or ten days at a time, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. (KIMT)

Waverly hospital to build Janesville clinic
A new medical clinic may be the next step for good things yet to come in Janesville. Waverly Health Center of Waverly and Lockard Cos. of Cedar Falls will break ground Monday on a new 3,400 square foot medical clinic, believed to be the first primary care facility of its size in Janesville. Located to a new State Bank branch building which opened there in December, the clinic is part of a larger 25-acre site that could be the scene of additional commercial and residential development in Janesville. (Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier)

National News

Study: HAC Reduction Program may not accurately measure hospital quality
Hospitals with structural characteristics reflecting volume, accreditations and advanced services tend to perform better than others on publicly reported quality measures but are penalized significantly in the Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program, according to a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. (Journal of the American Medical Association)

Study: Family caregiving worth $470 billion annually
Family caregivers in the United States provided an estimated $470 billion in unpaid medical support and other services to their loved ones in 2013, up from $450 billion five years earlier, according to a recent report from AARP. Those unpaid services are worth more than total Medicaid spending for 2013 and also more than the annual combined sales that year from the four largest U.S. technology companies — Apple, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Microsoft, researchers said. (Reuters/Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Meet the family that has made health policy its business
If there’s such a thing as the first family of health care, the Lees may be it. Five decades ago, two brothers helped start Medicare. Their father inspired them and they, in turn, have inspired the next generation. To mark the anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson signing Medicare into law on July 30, 1965, three Lees sat down to reflect on the U.S. health care system. (Iowa Public Radio)

Federal grant connects rural hospitals through telecoms
In rural Alaska, primary medical care can be as inaccessible as fast food. Partnerships between federal government, telecommunications providers, and medical organizations, however, can ease the isolation and bring primary and even psychiatric care to the most far-flung Alaska communities. Alaska Communications Systems Inc., has partnered with the Juneau Alliance for Mental Health, Inc., or JAMHI, and Sitka Community Hospital to provide the equipment and necessary bandwidth to give rural patients behavioral and primary healthcare access. (Alaska Journal of Commerce)

How predictive analytics will revolutionize health care
In the bucolic Upper Connecticut River Valley in New Hampshire an academic medical center is working to rewrite the book on health care with the help of predictive analytics, wearable devices and the cloud. “It’s important to think about healthcare being on the precipice of what I think of as an industrial revolution,” says Dr. Jim Weinstein, president and CEO of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health System, a nonprofit academic health system that serves a patient population of 1.2 million people in New England. (CIO)

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

Iowa News

UNI seeking to sell 50 acres of campus for replacement hospital
The University of Northern Iowa is seeking to sell 50 acres of campus property to a local hospital looking to build a new facility, according to agenda documents released Tuesday by the Iowa Board of Regents. The property is located on the southwest corner of the Cedar Falls-based university’s campus. The land would be purchased for $4.3 million by Sartori Memorial Hospital, a 100-bed, full-service hospital providing care in the Cedar Falls area. (Iowa City Press-Citizen)

Story County Medical Center expansion set to start this fall
Work on a 32,000-square-foot, $15 million addition to Story Medical Center’s south campus is set to begin this October. When the new hospital was completed in 2009, the addition was already identified as the second of three phases for the overall facility. The third phase will be the eventual move of senior care to the south side of town. The addition planned for this fall will bring the Story Medical primary care clinic; physical, occupational and speech therapy; and cardiac rehabilitation services and wellness programs. (Ames Tribune)

Mercy in Sioux City celebrates 125th anniversary
Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City is celebrating 125 years of serving Siouxland and it’s bringing in a special guest to do that. The former Bishop of Sioux City Bishop and now Archbishop of the Houston Galveston Diocese, Daniel DiNardo, is in town for that celebration. Wednesday afternoon he was at a reception held at Mercy Medical Center. DiNardo says he’s happy to be back in Siouxland. (KMEG)

Iowa: Who we are by the numbers (as of 2014)
Every year the Iowa Department of Public Health compiles a statistical profile that tracks vital records such as the state’s population count, the number of births and deaths and other demographic information. Preliminary data is released in a condensed, at-a-glance format with more specific data provided later after more complete collection and a detailed analysis of information within a historical context. (Cedar Rapids Gazette)

National News

Congress overwhelmingly approves bill bolstering Medicare hospital patients’ rights
The U.S. Senate unanimously approved legislation Monday night requiring hospitals across the nation to tell Medicare patients when they receive observation care but have not been admitted to the hospital. It’s a distinction that’s easy to miss until patients are hit with big medical bills after a short stay. The vote follows overwhelming approval in the U. S. House of Representatives in March. The legislation is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama, said its House sponsor, Texas Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett. (Kaiser Health News)

Task force recommends primary care providers screen all adults for depression
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended that all adults be screened for depression in a primary care setting “with adequate systems in place to ensure accurate diagnosis, effective treatment and appropriate follow up.” The task force will accept comments on the draft recommendation through August 24. It assigned a “B” grade to the recommendation, meaning all copays and deductibles for the screenings would be waived under the Affordable Care Act. (U.S. Preventive Services Task Force)

CMS releases FAQs to clarify plan to ease ICD-10 transition
On Monday, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released answers to frequently asked questions to help clarify recently announced measures that aim to provide physicians with some flexibility as they transition to the new ICD-10 code sets. U.S. health care organizations are working to transition from ICD-9 to ICD-10 code sets to accommodate codes for new diseases and procedures by October 1. On July 6, CMS and the American Medical Association jointly announced measures designed to help ease physicians’ transition. (iHealth Beat)

Dying care: ‘Improved’ guidelines proposed
England’s health watchdog has put forward new draft guidance to improve the care of adults in their last few days of life. It comes after concerns that misuse of the previous system – the Liverpool Care Pathway – led to some patients being deprived of water and food. The guidelines encourage staff to involve patients and relatives in decisions and to communicate well. The Department of Health and charities welcomed the move. (BBC)

In 1965, experts warned of Medicare-induced crisis
The predictions were dire: hospitals overflowing with desperately ill elderly patients; chronic shortages of doctors and nurses; nursing home beds in critically short supply. Medicare, worried doctors said, would turn once smoothly functioning hospitals into warehouses filled with sick people who had nowhere else to go. This was the vision of Medicare advanced in U.S. News & World Report on July 26, 1965. (U.S. News & World Report)

greetings-from-iowa525Similar to “Iowa nice,” “quality of life” is one of those terms that is difficult to define but that everyone can identify because they know it when they see it. It’s the reason why many native Iowans who were attracted the natural beauty of Colorado or Oregon or the urban excitement of Chicago or Seattle come home. What was once predictable and boring suddenly becomes safe and welcoming.

Quality of life as a metric often boosts Iowa to the upper reaches in various state comparisons. Last month, CNBC released its list of top states for business, which placed Iowa a comfortable 10th. It’s familiar territory for Iowa, which usually hovers near the top 10 (12th last year, 11th in 2013), though in 2010 the state hit sixth. Similar results have been seen in lists from Forbes and CEO magazine, among others.

In the CNBC rating, which was led by Minnesota and dominated by the Upper Midwest (#6 North Dakota, #7 Nebraska, #11 South Dakota and #15 Wisconsin), Iowa ranked in the top 10 states for three metrics: cost of doing business (fifth), quality of life (ninth) and overall economy (10th).

Employees from Hegg Memorial Health Center in Rock Valley take part in a parade in Hull.

Employees from Hegg Memorial Health Center in Rock Valley take part in a parade in Hull.

At the other end of the scale was the quality and availability of Iowa’s workforce (44th), a measure that offered the greatest possible points in CNBC’s weighted methodology. Hurting Iowa the most in this area: the state’s ongoing struggle to hang on to college graduates who receive a good education (Iowa ranked 18th on that measure) but choose to start their careers elsewhere (recent surveys from the University of Iowa and Iowa State University show about 50 percent of graduates leave the state).

This is a situation that IHA works to address through the Iowa Hospital Education and Research Foundation (IHERF) Health Care Careers Scholarship program. In addition to providing support to students in high-need careers, the program also requires students to work one year in an Iowa hospital for each scholarship awarded (they can receive up to two of the $3,000 awards). In this way, IHERF scholarships help stabilize Iowa’s workforce and improve the state’s overall business climate.

Iowa hospitals also contribute to the state’s other strengths by lowering the cost of doing business (health care in Iowa is among the most affordable in the nation and, by extension, so is health insurance) and developing the overall economy (hospitals are a large, reliable and growing part of Iowa’s economy and help keep the state’s unemployment rate enviably low).

Among the top 10 states in the CNBC report, it’s interesting that Iowa is comparable in quality of life to Colorado and Washington and far better than Texas, Utah and North Carolina – locations that Iowa college grads find very appealing. It’s also notable that access to high-quality health care and overall population health are significant factors in the quality-of-life metric.

Clearly, Iowa is a great place to live and, by extension, a great place to do business. Hospitals contribute to both by providing high-value health care and employing a highly educated, highly professional workforce whose talents impact lives and communities in countless, often immeasurable ways.

As for those young people who take their college degrees and stream out of Iowa each year: a state can’t be all things to all demographics, as the CNBC results show. In most ways that affect quality of life for most people, Iowa has its priorities straight and is playing to its strengths, including an excellent health care system that, perhaps more than any other industry, ensures that Iowa will always be among the best places to live and work.

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

Iowa News

Hospital just announced $13 million expansion
Story County Medical Center announced Tuesday that it’s planning a $13 million addition. Officials said the project will move all outpatient services to the South Campus located at 640 S 19th Street in Nevada. “We have seen growth in our clinics and at our hospital,” said Tim Ahlers, CEO in a news release. “Our emergency room and outpatient surgery procedures have seen record growth in the past year. Consolidating our services onto one campus will improve our patients’ experience while providing easy, convenient access to state of the art facilities.” (KCCI)

4 questions with Palo Alto County Health System CEO Desiree Einsweiler
Palo Alto County Health System CEO Desiree Einsweiler knows about the challenges of rural healthcare, but in spite of it all, she believes change in healthcare today makes it an exciting place o be. Ms. Einsweiler was named to Becker’s list of “50 rural CEOs to know” in 2014 and 2015. She was also one of Becker’s “130 women hospital and health system leaders to know” in 2013 and 2014. She has served as CEO since 2012. (Becker’s Hospital Review)

New Genesis program supports babies, families
A crying, screaming infant who can’t be consoled can be so scary and worrisome for some parents that they end up taking the baby to a hospital emergency room. Perhaps that expensive visit could have been avoided if the parents had more instruction and support in dealing with their child. Providing that help is the purpose of a new initiative announced Tuesday at Genesis Medical Center-East Rusholme Street, Davenport. (Quad-City Times)

UI Clinic focuses on helping LGBTQ patients
At the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, members of a long-ostracized community are finding a safe space, the UI LGBTQ Clinic. As the only service of its kind in Iowa, the clinic — founded in 2012 — has experienced a boom in clientele that can mean long waiting lists for patients. “All of our spots are being occupied,” said Nicole Nisly, a UI clinical professor of internal medicine and the founder of the clinic. “We’re definitely not idle. Patients are booking months in advance.” (University of Iowa Daily Iowan)

National News

‘Jaw-dropping': Medicare deaths, hospitalizations AND costs reduced
The U.S. health care system has scored a medical hat trick, reducing deaths, hospitalizations and costs, a new study shows. Mortality rates among Medicare patients fell 16 percent from 1999 to 2013. That’s equal to more than 300,000 fewer deaths a year in 2013 than in 1999, said cardiologist Harlan Krumholz, lead author of a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association and a professor at the Yale School of Medicine. “It’s a jaw-dropping finding,” Krumholz said. “We didn’t expect to see such a remarkable improvement over time.” (USA Today)

CMS projects higher health care spending growth through 2024
The historically low growth rates of national health spending over the last several years may be history. CMS officials say the Affordable Care Act’s insurance expansion, an improving economy, an aging population, and expensive new drugs are pushing up health costs once again. U.S. health spending is expected to grow 5.8 percent annually between 2014 and 2024, according to projections from CMS economists and actuaries published Tuesday in Health Affairs. (Modern Healthcare)

Hospital leaders urge Congress to support unique needs of rural patients
Hospital leaders Tuesday urged the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee to eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens and support federal policies critical to maintaining access to care in rural communities. At the hearing, rural hospital leaders urged Congress to support legislation to prevent the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services from enforcing a Medicare condition of payment for Critical Access Hospitals that requires a physician to certify that a beneficiary may reasonably be expected to be discharged or transferred to another hospital within 96 hours. (American Hospital Association)

Lawmakers seek to change Medicare payment requirements for rural hospitals
A House Ways and Means subcommittee met Tuesday to discuss two Medicare payment requirements that the panel’s Republicans called “bureaucratic red tape” for rural hospitals. “Our constituents are seeing first-hand the difficulties caused by overregulation and bureaucracy. And it is our rural neighbors who pay the price when it comes to access,” said Health Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, in his opening statement. (Agri-Pulse)

Rethinking mental health’s role in the rural health care system
A new partnership in southwest Kansas aims to build mental health services and help strengthen a couple of rural hospitals at the same time. The nonprofit United Methodist Health Ministry Fund is leading an effort to make the health system work better for people in rural Kansas. The fund’s president, Kim Moore, said the current structure based on small, low-volume hospitals isn’t likely to survive long-term. (High Plains Public Radio)

Hospital checklists are meant to save lives — so why do they often fail?
Some hospitals have been unable to replicate the impressive results of initial trials. An analysis of more than 200,000 procedures at 101 hospitals in Ontario, Canada, for example, found no significant reductions in complications or deaths after surgical-safety checklists were introduced. A cadre of researchers is working to make sense of the discrepancies. They are finding a variety of factors that can influence a checklist’s success or failure, ranging from the attitudes of staff to the ways that administrators introduce the tool. (Nature)

Primary care compensation rising faster than specialties, but…
A survey from Medical Group Management Association provides further evidence that primary care physician compensation is rising at a faster rate than that of specialists. However, the survey also shows that specialists earn nearly twice as much. The findings, gleaned from comparative data from nearly 70,000 providers, found that primary care physicians reported a median compensation of $241,273 in 2014, a 3.56 percent increase since 2013. Median compensation for specialists rose to $411,852, a 2.39 percent increase since last year. (HealthLeaders Media)