Illinois hospitals shift to consumer convenience

Posted: Mar. 29, 2014 5:48 pm Updated: Apr. 13, 2014 12:14 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Blessing Hospital has operated a fitness center for more than two decades.

While this once was an unusual venture, a new study shows hospitals in cities and rural areas throughout Illinois are extending services beyond traditional options.

Fitness centers, urgent care clinics and dental practices run by hospitals no longer are unusual ventures. The Illinois Hospital Association report details the changing health care landscape, finding two out of five Illinois hospitals operate freestanding outpatient clinics and one in three run fitness centers.

Maureen Kahn, president and chief executive officer at Blessing, believes the nation's new health care law gives the hospital the opportunity to collaborate with its community on some services and provide others entirely.

"Part of the changes with health care reform is looking at taking care of all people in the most appropriate way," Kahn said.

The trend began years ago and got a boost from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which provides financial incentives to hospitals that keep large populations healthy, as well as penalties for those that fail.

The IHA report calculated hospitals' economic benefit using a system developed by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The report lists services provided in 2012 by hospitals or through a hospital's joint venture. It noted:

53 percent of Illinois hospitals provide hospice services.

41 percent provide ambulance services.

41 percent provide freestanding outpatient care.

35 percent provide home health care.

34 percent operate fitness centers.

33 percent provide dentistry.

Blessing Hospital celebrated the 30th anniversary of its hospice and home care programs in 2013. Kahn said Blessing has long recognized the benefit of caring for individuals in their own home. She said these services often allow patients to enjoy life in their own homes during their final days.

The hospital partners with the Adams County Health Department to provide dental care. In Carthage, Memorial Hospital teams up with the Hancock County Health Department to offer dental services.

Ada Bair, chief executive officer at Memorial Hospital, said the partnership was essential because no dentist in the area provided care for Medicaid patients when the partnership was formed.

Bair said it's unrealistic for hospitals in small, rural areas to provide extra services without help.

Memorial Hospital's patients often receive hospice care through Blessing Hospice and Palliative Care. Neither hospital operates its own ambulance service, but both operate satellite clinics.

"When you're small and rural, collaboration is the name of the game," Bair said. "We cannot afford to duplicate resources that are already out there."

In Jerseyville, 80-year-old retiree Margie Meuth drives a mile to exercise at Jersey Community Hospital's fitness center. When the $3 million center was built 15 years ago, it was a bold move for the hospital. Now, executives from other hospitals seek Jersey's advice about opening their own fitness facilities where future patients can lift weights, swim laps and do aerobics.

"The center has really helped keep me active," said Meuth, who takes a dance-fitness class for seniors. "I've met a lot of good friends out there that I wouldn't have met otherwise."

The IHA report finds that hospitals contribute $83.4 billion to the state's economy in direct and indirect spending. In nearly half the state's counties, hospitals are among the top three employers, writing paychecks to the equivalent of 200,226 full-time workers and indirectly spurring employment for another 250,000 workers.

Inpatient revenue, or dollars earned from hospital stays, is declining as a percentage of hospitals' total revenue with outpatient services bringing in a bigger portion of the total. Kahn said the focus has switched to preventative care and treating patients before they get to the point of an emergency.

"We need to make sure they get the right care, at the right time and in the right way," Kahn said. "We want to make sure we're not using the (emergency department) as our home."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.