Officials keeping employees better informed

Employees at Brooks Memorial Hospital may have been in the dark as to what was happening with the hospital in the last year, but that is no longer the case. A management team has been meeting since Thursday with groups of employees on all shifts, providing much of the information the employees have been seeking as to the future of the Dunkirk hospital.

Gary Rhodes is the acting chief executive officer for Brooks and told the OBSERVER that change is here.

“We have to really get on it and it’s all hospitals across the country, not just (in) New York,” he added.

A big part of that change is coming under the Affordable Care Act that will be put in place during the next 18 to 36 months.

“People are already buying policies that have high deductibles and that’s going to affect dramatically the elective care. If you have a knee that hurts and you’re thinking about having something done and you have to pay the first $5,000 … that’s already here,” Rhodes stated. “That’s a move, and that’s why I would say the change is really going to be disruptive and we have to have a good foundation.”

The meetings with employees are part of the process, and something that will continue, according to Rhodes.

“What I hope to have come out of that is what I would call strategic imperatives. They may be expanded, additional service lines or whatever, but there’s going to be some strategic imperatives come out of this that will require everyone working to the same end on the same goals to get there and that’s what Brooks needs to do,” he explained. “It’s somewhat out of our control. We shouldn’t be in a reactive state, but we are because it just wasn’t dealt with before, no matter whose budget proposals you look at.”

Some $500 billion has to come out of the health care system under various proposals in federal and state law, dropping reimbursement rates for Medicare, Medicaid, healthcare exchanges and private insurers. Narrower health care networks are also the future.

“For the first time ever, when you choose your insurance plan, you’re going to be choosing your doctor and hospital,” Rhodes said. “That is a real thing for us to get used to. … Plans often bragged about every doctor and every hospital is in our plan. You may get that in the future, but you’re going to have to pay substantially more to get that.”

While hospital emergency rooms will still treat immediate needs, a patient may not be able to be admitted if insurance doesn’t include that hospital.

“If you need a higher level of care or an admission there’s a chance if this hospital is not in your plan, after you got through the emergency part, you might have to go somewhere else. That’s the part that consumers are going to have to come to grips with eventually,” Rhodes explained. “… I’m sure that’s going to happen because that’s the way insurance companies are going to address the increased costs for companies. They’re going to say ‘hey, if you get this plan we’ll give you a significant discount, but you can only use these hospitals, these doctors.’ That’s coming for sure.”

Another concern for hospitals is retail alternatives, citing CVS dropping the sale of cigarettes because they sell health products.

“That doesn’t mean they’re just going to continue to sell pharmaceuticals and sundries, they’re going to get in the business,” Rhodes stated. “We need to be ahead of the game if possible because there’s others. … There’s other companies out there looking to take our business.”

With as many as a third of hospitals facing closure, Rhodes said it’s a vulnerability of hospitals that are unable or unwilling to change. A name change from Brooks Memorial Hospital to Brooks Memorial Health Center, or Health and Wellness Center, may be in the offing as well.

“I think the definition of a hospital and what’s there is going to change, so maybe even the word that describes us needs to change as we move forward,” Rhodes said. “The amount of our business that’s going to come from inpatient business is going to drop significantly.”

The hospital is planning for the future.

“What will come out of that at some point is what areas does Brooks need to focus on to take care of the community? Is it women’s health? Is it diabetes care? What is it?” Rhodes asked. “What will come out of this is a certain number of strategic imperatives to kind of redirect, refocus where the organization is going.”

Rhodes said the outcome has not been determined.

Send comments to gsnyder@observertoday.com