UNION COUNTY — The Union Hospital District has been accepted into a state program that will reimburse it for the cost of indigent care.
The S.C. Department of Health and Human Services has approved a plan submitted by the Union Hospital District for participation in the state’s Healthy Outcomes Initiative. The initiative enables participating hospitals to receive funding from the state to cover the cost of indigent care. Union Hospital District CEO Paul Newhouse said this will mean the district will receive approximately $1 million a year from the state.
“This goes straight to the bottom line,” Newhouse said. “This brings it closer to profitability.”
Participation in the Healthy Outcomes Initiative is part of the district’s efforts to improve its financial condition. The district lost $1.1 million in July and has lost nearly $6 million since the beginning of the current fiscal year last October.
Newhouse said the district’s plan, entitled “Healthy Outcomes For Union County,” was recently approved the SCDHHS without any changes.
“It (the initiative) starts October 1, we just got approved yesterday,” Newhouse said Wednesday. “Every hospital in the state submitted a plan. They approved 19 without having to make changes and we were one of the 19.
Newhouse said that the hospitals were required to submit their plans to the SCDHHS in order participate in the initiative. He said the district’s plan outlines the steps it is taking to reduce the use of Wallace Thomson Hospital’s emergency room by patients with conditions that do not require emergency medical care.
“The overall plan or idea is to reduce the heavy utilization of the emergency room for non-emergent situations,” he said. “What they want is for every hospital to develop a plan to focus on the heavy utilization of the emergency room.”
“What we are doing is working with Union Mental Health Center and the Union Alcohol and Drug Center along with our physician offices,” Newhouse said. “We’re going to identify some sort of counselor or case manager-type person and reach out to the identified patients to ensure that they get the proper care that they need without having to come repeatedly to the emergency room.”
Newhouse pointed out that in the past year, 119 patients came to the emergency room at least 11 times; 20 patients at least 20 times; two patients at least 40 times; one patient at least 50 times; and one patient at least 74 times.
The plan outlines other steps the district will take to reduce use of the emergency room for non-emergency medical situations as well as improve overall health care services in the community including:
• Physician Recruitment — The plan states that “access to health care is one of the top health issues in Union County as physician resources are not currently in adequate supply for the population.” The district looks to rectify this through:
— In-house recruitment of primary care physicians. The plan states that one successful signing will bring an additional primary care physician to Union on Monday, Sept. 23.
— Partnering with Spartanburg Regional Medical Center to develop a plan to bring two primary care physicians who have just completed their residency to Union County.
— The identification of a physician who has accepted the position of Hospitalist Director. The plan states that the physician “will develop a hospitalist program with the aim of having 24/7 coverage by January 2014. Prior to this date we will start adding hospitalist days to our calendar as physicians become available. This will allow the current primary care physicians in the community to focus on patients in their office, increasing the numbers seen on a daily basis.”
— Develop space adjacent to the emergency room for primary care through extended hours. The plan states “this will greatly reduce the over-utilization of the ER upon completion.”
• Focus on key health issues in the community including behavioral health, diabetes, hypertension, and COPD.
• Work with the Mental Health and Alcohol and Drug Abuse centers to identify and address mental health and drug issues among uninsured patients.
• Determine Medicaid and other health plan eligibility and assist patients with the process and paperwork.
Newhouse said that the district, along with other health care systems participating in the initiative, will collect data on its plan and its effectiveness in achieving the goals outlined. This will be collected from Oct. 1 through June 30, 2014 and submitted to the SCDHHS which will review it to determine what has worked best. The department will then submit recommendations on the best practices to the hospitals of the state beginning Oct. 1, 2014.
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.