Metrocast3

Huggins future may see new practices, affiliation


November 07, 2013
TAMWORTH — The first of six community forums centered around the changing landscape of the health care industry and the impact this will have on Huggins Hospital was held last Wednesday, Oct. 30, in Tamworth.

About a dozen people attended the forum and came ready to ask plenty of questions, causing the one-hour forum to hit the two-hour mark.

Anyone interested in the impact changes in health care, most notably due to the Affordable Care Act, will have on the delivery of services by this local hospital should plan to attend one of the remaining forums. There will be a forum on Nov. 7 at Ossipee Town Hall from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., on Nov. 12 at Huggins Hospital in Wolfeboro from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and on Nov. 20 at Wakefield Town Hall from 6 to 7 p.m.

Huggins Hospital President and CEO Michael Connelly led the Tamworth forum and said one area that has caused a "fair amount of anxiety and concern" among those in the healthcare field is the uncertainty about how many new patients will be coming onto the healthcare rolls and how the changing laws will impact hospitals. It is estimated that 59,000 people in New Hampshire who currently don't have access to healthcare will now have access under the new law. While Connelly said he doesn't see added patients "overwhelming our resources at Huggins," there are related changes in the way services are billed and records are handled that is having an impact or will in the near future.

He said the hospital board is focusing on three key areas the delivery of primary care medical services, quality and customer service, and the possibility of affiliating with a larger hospital.

Connelly said the past year has been spent taking a focused look at the overall well-being of the primary care practices currently affiliated with Huggins Hospital. It was realized that these practices were not performing well financially and the provider turnover rate is high. This high turnover rate is a barrier to giving patients access to care with patients having to wait an extended period of time to get appointments for non-emergency needs. Turnover can be very distressing for patients who have known their provider for a long time and now have to switch. Careful consideration has also been given to the space where medical services are rendered are they conducive to patient flow and are they comfortable and safe for patients and staff?

To address space concerns and with the goal to provide patients with better access to healthcare, construction on a new primary care office in Alton could start as soon as early next year. Connelly said the blueprints and business plan has been done for this facility and it now needs to move through the application and approval process. Additionally, space is also being sought in Ossipee and Wakefield so the Huggins-owned medical offices in those towns can be relocated.

Connelly said the hospital board and administrators are "in the thick of the mix" of looking at affiliation options. With cost pressures and physician shortages, smaller hospitals affiliating themselves with larger ones, he said, is becoming a national trend. Currently discussions are in the works between Huggins Hospital and Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover. He said affiliating with that hospital involves a "very long process of exploration" and the board hopes to have a model of how the affiliation will work by late-winter or early-spring 2014.

There are three main benefits of the two hospitals coming together, he said. First, there is the clinical integration piece that could move toward the goal of providing a seamless model of care for patients. Second, the economies of scale the two hospitals could share management and resources. And thirdly, Huggins would have a partner to help develop new value-based payment models that are being required by the changes in the healthcare laws.

While there are many resources on the internet that provide information about Affordable Care Act, Connelly said the best he has found that includes a timeline is Kaiser Family Foundation's website at www.kff.org.

For more information about Huggins Hospital or the community forums, their website is www.hugginshospital.org or contact Director of Marketing Mariann Murphy at 515-2088.

Thanks for visiting NewHampshireLakesAndMountains.com