Huggins holds Community Forum in Wolfeboro



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HUGGINS HOSPITAL CEO MICHAEL CONNELLY addressed attendees of the latest in a series of Community Forums intended to be informative while also serving as a listening post for the concerns of those who depend on Huggins for health care. About 50 citizens gathered in the hospital cafeteria for the Nov. 12 Wolfeboro forum. (Elissa Paquette photo) (click for larger version)
November 21, 2013
WOLFEBORO — Huggins Hospital CEO and President of the Board Michael Connelly addressed attendees of the latest in a series of Community Forums intended to be informative while also serving as a listening post for the concerns of those who depend on Huggins for health care.

About 50 citizens gathered in the hospital cafeteria for the Wolfeboro forum on Tuesday, Nov. 12.

Connelly responded to concerns about obtaining insurance on New Hampshire's Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace, a shortage of physicians, dissatisfaction with communication and service, Huggins' possible affiliation with another hospital and the institution's financial health.

Currently, said Connelly, help navigating the ACA system can be obtained from the White Mountain Community Health Center of Conway (447-8900), one of ten such centers throughout the state. "We hope to be certified at Huggins Hospital soon," informed Connelly. "Everybody needs to be insured."

Several attendees expressed concern about being able to communicate with their doctor's office in a timely manner and the number of physicians who have come and gone in the recent past.

Connelly was forthright. "In the last four to five years, it's been a bit of a revolving door." There is a shortage of physicians in New Hampshire, and "not all appreciate our semi-rural setting," he remarked. It is predicted that in 2015 there will be just 60,000 physicians in the state, with only half in primary care.

When physicians are employed by the hospital, rather than invested in the more costly option of building and maintaining a private practice, he explained, it is "easier to pick up and move." He admitted that the hospital also is accountable in retaining physicians and described actions taken so far to encourage greater longevity.

The hospital has renovated some offices and a move to electronic medical records nearing completion will eliminate duplicate testing. It has also initiated a formal service executive program to facilitate better and more efficient communication.

Looking ahead, consolidation of business functions such as scheduling, pre-registration and phone calls, may save duplication of costs. "We need to better leverage technology," said Connelly, and provide more consistency in procedures.

The hospital also established a community health committee, credited with organizing community forums, such as the one on Nov. 12. And there will be more.

Asked whether Huggins was looking to affiliate with a larger hospital, Connelly answered that there is a "range of possibilities" under consideration. In 2006, with changes in the health care system evident, it began entertaining that possibility. In 2008, those discussions were put on hold as attention focused on construction of the new building. The economy tanked in the meantime.

The focus now is on an affiliation with Wentworth-Douglas Hospital to realize a more regionalized approach to service that would offer clinical integration for a full range of services and the economies of scale, and a new payment model that would move away from volume to a more patient-centered medical model and a greater emphasis on prevention through education and monitoring.

"I'd like to applaud Huggins Hospital for an affiliation," said Bette Coffee, Wolfeboro Branch Director of Central New Hampshire Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice. "It helps contain health care costs."

"I heard that Huggins Hospital is $1 million in the red," said one gentleman in the audience, "Is that rumor true?" "Yes, that information is correct," answered Connelly evenly.

He proceeded to offer up a history of the last few years. He first became involved with the facility as a consultant, when former President and CEO David Tower resigned and his predecessor, Les McLeod, had returned to the helm as an interim officer.

"We were losing $4.3 million a year in 2011. It wasn't good, and a number of financial indicators were not looking good," said Connelly. The board decided to close the 27 bed extended care facility, and in January 2013 it reduced the number of staff by 24, a move "that still hurts me to this day," he shared.

However, those tough decisions reduced the loss to approximately $900,000 for fiscal year 2013. "I'm proud of that," declared Connelly, who added that the institution is carrying the cost of the new facility, a depreciation expense of $5 million a year. The cash flow has improved and expenses are well managed.

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