Faced with the conflicting desires of staying independent and local while also providing integrated, carefully coordinated care, Columbus Community Hospital chose a third option. The 47-bed, independent, acute care hospital instead has joined up with a collaborative of three metro health systems and six rural independents in Nebraska called the Regional Provider Network. Through this new partnership, they’ve gained the benefits of a merger without the headaches.
Could you talk about the pain point you reached when you knew you had to enter into a collaborative with other hospitals?
HANSEN: As an independent hospital, you realize that you can’t continue to be on an island all by yourself. The health care environment is shifting, and we’re moving from a volume-based system to a value-based system and the focus is turning to population health and wellness. That’s something a small, independent hospital can’t do on its own. You really have to be open to becoming part of a larger network. So, for us, being independent was important, maintaining that local board control and being able to deliver care locally were all important to us in terms of our founding principles. With things changing, we had to decide: What do we want to do? Do we want to just continue to be on an island by ourselves? Do we want to be acquired or merge with somebody? Do we want to sell, or do we want to become part of a network in which we have some control and can manage our own destiny? Back in 2012, we started that discussion with some of the key independent hospitals around us — three large hospitals in Omaha and Lincoln and others our size, tweener size. Ultimately, nine of us came together as independent hospitals to form a network.
What’s the value proposition of being in such a network for Columbus Community Hospital?
HANSEN: Well, there are two main paths that we’re headed down. First of all is clinical integration. The value of clinical integration is to be able to share best practices, clinical protocols, to develop quality metrics and process improvement systems together, and to improve the overall quality and safety of care. That’s certainly one of the value propositions. The other is shared services — as a large network, being able to leverage the combined purchasing power of an organization that size, and to reduce our costs and expenses for supplies and contracts. That’s something we were able to accomplish very quickly, because the nine of us had contracts in place that were the same; we could simply go back to that supplier or vendor and say we want to renegotiate as a network and, obviously, we were able to reduce our costs.
What advice can you offer other hospitals that are on their own island and feeling despondent?
HANSEN: As an independent hospital, you should at least be having the conversation at the board level: What is your strategy going to be moving forward? I think we all know that the reimbursement system is changing. Reimbursement is going to get tighter and tighter, and we’re going to have to be able to work together and collaborate with other organizations to be successful. It’s always better to do that while you’re in a position of strength and power than it is to wait and get in a situation where you’re going to have to make a decision because you’re financially struggling or you’re being forced to merge with or be acquired by somebody. The sooner you can have that discussion and decide and dictate your own destiny, the better off you’ll be instead of waiting and having things happen to you.