Despite COVID-19 cases plateauing in our state, hospitals remain overly full. So much so that, on Oct. 18, state Department of Health officials announced that health-care facilities may transition to a state of “crisis standards of care,” which allows over-stretched facilities to ration treatment and suspend procedures that aren’t considered medically necessary.
The designation to “crisis standards of care” points to a new, much more challenging era of health-care shortages – our local facilities are running low on supplies, staff, funding and capacity. Perhaps one way we can combat the rising costs while preserving high-quality patient care is by pooling the resources of nearby hospitals and merging the facilities to help bolster the bottom line.
We know that when we lose a rural hospital – as a nation, we have lost 138 since 2010 – we create a hospital “desert,” in which patients are forced to travel long distances in order to reach the nearest medical facility. A 2018 Pew Research Center Survey found that nearly a quarter of Americans in rural areas claim that access to good doctors and hospitals is a pressing problem in their community.
In Springer, we know all too well about this, as it is at least a 45-minute drive to the nearest medical center.
By combining the resources of two or more nearby facilities that are stretched beyond their means, we can create a health-care system that’s able to both provide integrated and coordinated care while also investing in better medical technology, electronic record systems and expanding specialty care and medical facilities.
In 2017, it was reported that 115 merger and acquisition transactions had taken place, which is a record for recent years.
A report by Healthcare Financial Management Association predicts that this number will only continue to increase as price transparency and value-based care models emerge. This means that patients will be able to access the same level of care at a reduced cost when hospital mergers do occur, as those cost savings from combining resources will be passed along to patients.
So, what’s standing in the way of us accessing this new system? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stands opposed to hospital mergers, based on outdated data from as far back as the 1990s. Studies using old data are not helpful in an industry like health care, where new technology and medical breakthroughs are occurring nearly every day.
Now, I know I may not have as much knowledge of the political dynamics at play as the federal officials in Washington, D.C., but I do know how those politician’s policies affect those of us living in Albuquerque. We can’t afford to lose any more access to our health-care system.
If that means that our hospital must join forces with another hospital to continue providing the same quality of care, well, I’m in. And I hope that our policymakers in Washington, D.C., are, too.