GUEST COLUMN: MVHS facing obstacles, but optimistic for future
During the next few weeks, the Daily Sentinel, in partnership with the Genesis Group, will publish articles written by area elected officials and business and community leaders.
GUEST COLUMN: MVHS facing obstacles, but optimistic for future
During the next few weeks, the Daily Sentinel, in partnership with the Genesis Group, will publish articles written by area elected officials and business and community leaders. In addition to the Sentinel’s Editorial Page, the articles will appear in the Genesis Group’s weekly newsletters and social media pages.
As this year closes, I am finding it difficult to accurately tell the story of what is happening in healthcare both locally and nationally because the story goes to the extreme. In fact, it’s really two stories. I am enormously optimistic about all that is possible in the Mohawk Valley, but sadly realistic about the dreadful “hangover” that COVID has left in its wake. I’m thrilled with the results of our advancement into medical education and the interest of the next generation of physicians in our community but completely dismayed by the exodus of talent from traditional hospital jobs.
So my recap will be honest, and in doing that, my hope is that you can share my optimism for the long term but recognize there are major rough waters to cross with no swim lessons available.
Our future is bright ...
If you’ve driven through downtown Utica in the last year, you have seen the future with the emergence of the Wynn Hospital, a symbol of what is happening in the transition of the Mohawk Valley region. We have remained on target for an October 2023 opening and with 80% of the project completed, we are actively working with a company specializing in moving complicated hospitals. It is so exciting to be part of this!
During the past year, MVHS made significant progress in creating a robust graduate medical education program. We will be a leader in educating and training the next generation of physicians and allied health providers. Historically, we had both a family practice and dental residency. This year, four more programs were approved by the accrediting body – general surgery, podiatry, psychiatry and transitional year program. And we’ve made major headway on OBGYN, pharmacy and emergency medicine. Plus, an additional 35 medical students have come to our campuses.
At MVHS, we are fortunate to have a strong base upon which we are building and growing our services. We’ve expanded our capabilities in many areas – cardiology, surgery, robotics, stroke care, and OBGYN. In just the past year, our organization was recognized for excellence with a number of local, statewide and national awards. Our surgical and orthopedic services were recognized by Healthgrades. For the second consecutive year, we were designated as a HeartCARE Center by the prestigious American College of Cardiology. We became a comprehensive stroke center, putting us at the highest level of stroke care available.
Across the street from the new hospital, Oneida County is making progress on construction of a new parking garage. On the other side of the new hospital, construction has started on a new 90,000 square-foot medical office building. That project will house the large cardiology practice, Central New York Cardiology, several MVHS physician practices, outpatient services and an ambulatory surgery center. This area will be a medical campus!
The Wynn Hospital is a benefit to patients in this community in many ways. It is designed to be safer, more efficient, improve comfort and will be a draw to this community. The merger of this community’s hospitals over the years allows us to focus together on the delivery of healthcare. It is attractive to patients and physicians alike. The very presence of the Wynn in downtown Utica is changing the feel and vibe of this city. The Wynn is already proving to be a draw to new physicians which helps increase the level of care delivered right here in the Mohawk Valley region.
It is great to be here at this time of growth and progress in the Mohawk Valley area. As we watched the emergence of Wolfspeed (Cree), the growth and innovation of Masonic Medical Research Institute, continued strength of companies like Indium and PAR, to name just a few, the improvements in our streets and infrastructure – and the impact from organizations like the Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties and The (Refugee) Center, the Genesis Group and the IDA - all are signs that this area is emerging from its past and defining a positive future. We are blessed to have strong leadership in our institutions of higher learning – Utica University, Hamilton College, SUNY, MVCC and other community colleges. Add to that, elected officials who are dedicated to making this region even better. And the crowning glory is a variety of excellent restaurants! This all speaks to a valid reason for optimism for our future.
But we must navigate today’s challenges.
While I am very hopeful for our future, there are numerous challenges facing hospitals and health systems – most of which are out of our control – that must be addressed now to strengthen the availability of healthcare services for our communities. None of these have easy, quick fixes and all are affecting hospitals and communities throughout the state and nation. I’d like to share what we’re facing today as we do our best to provide our community with access to needed healthcare services.
• Unsustainable labor expenses. National workforce shortages in healthcare are driving up labor expenses to unsustainable levels on top of the increased costs of drugs, supplies and energy costs. In New York State, four out of five hospitals are reporting unsustainable losses.
• Reduction in services at hospitals statewide. Forty nine percent of NY hospitals have reported decreasing the level of services available to their patients due to workforce shortages and the need to cut expenses. We have not changed any of our service levels at MVHS.
• Hospital reimbursement policies greatly contribute to financial losses. While the costs we incur as healthcare providers increased over 35 percent this past year, our reimbursement doesn’t move. Yes, that is a 35% increase in expenses! Healthcare’s highest percentage of payers are Medicare (for those over 65 years) and Medicaid (for lower income). Both of these payers are governmental insurance which dictates what they pay regardless of the cost of care. Medicaid pays 70 cents on the dollar and Medicaid pays 61 cents. In theory, the remaining loss is to be covered by commercial insurances. However, in a community like Utica, that math doesn’t work. We are almost 80 percent governmental paid with no room to make it up from another source. Therefore, we, too are experiencing a red bottom line in 2022 and are expecting the same in 2023.
• Workforce shortages, financial losses and increased need for mental health. MVHS, like hospitals across the country, is suffering from severe workforce shortages and increased financial losses. Like others, we are constantly focused on the availability of products, the retention of nurses and doctors, and dealing with increasing pressures from our patients and their families. The increased level of mental health issues for our patients has exceeded any experience in the past. The shortage in the availability of mental health providers is felt all across the country, but most especially here.
• Healthcare is in crisis. The healthcare industry is experiencing crises on top of crises. We have no breathing room to absorb escalating labor and supply costs. Without federal and state support to ensure financial viability, some hospitals will not survive. Communities will lose access to healthcare.
Action is needed. MVHS is fortunate to be located in this region, benefitting from its geographic position which is also attractive to the people who want the lifestyle this community can provide. Yet, we are faced with the continued challenge to regain our financial footing and rebuild the workforce over the next few years. Our state and federal governments need to provide support to ensure the great people of communities like ours have access to the healthcare they need – and deserve. We have no choice but to recover.
In the midst of pressures and challenges, we are proud of the tremendous progress we have made during the past three years while navigating an unprecedented pandemic. So my optimism is justified. Just think what is possible for the Mohawk Valley when all parts of our community are on the other side of this recovery!
Darlene Stromstad is president and CEO of Mohawk Valley Health System.
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