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Weeks Medical Center is in the black, offers new services

October 14, 2009
LANCASTER — Weeks Medical Center CEO Scott Howe recently noted that WMC has had a good and busy year, with a fiscal year that closed in the black. It took time, he said, for WMC to adjust to the county's new dynamic, which as 2007 drew to a close included the closing of the Wausau mill in Groveton. WMC had run in the red a couple of years ago, causing concern that the future of three Cos hospitals was bleak with the loss of so many manufacturing jobs.

"The number of uninsured patients increased when Wausau closed, and the numbers of those without insurance are still increasing," the CEO explained. "If that trend continues, the situation could get worse," Mr. Howe added, and shared his thoughts that he is pessimistic that health care reform initiatives designed to alleviate the problem of uninsured citizens would, in fact, make it through Congress.

On average, 14 of the hospital's 25 beds — the top number allowed at a critical care facility — were filled over the last year, Mr. Howe said, noting, however, that overnight stays in its hospital beds make up only 25 percent of WMC's revenue stream.

Most of WMC's revenue is from outpatient services, including ambulatory surgery and oncology services offered in conjunction with the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Mr. Howe said. Cardiology and urology services have been added in the last year. The cardiology team specializes in diagnosing and non-invasive treatment of all aspects of heart disease and in promoting a healthy and active lifestyle. "With a commitment to increasing cardiac services at WMC, Dr. David Pelkowski joined the hospital in June as a full-time, hospital-based cardiologist, joining fellow cardiologists Drs. Emil Pollak and Anil Mukerjee, who both provide part-time outpatient care" Mr. Howe said.

WMC has the very latest in echocardiography equipment and has a PET/CT scanner on site in a tractor-trailer every Friday. Nuclear medicine tests are offered on Mondays and Tuesdays, and MRIs on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

The controversial decision to no longer offer obstetrical services still elicits an occasional word of dissatisfaction, Mr. Howe admitted. "We made the right decision for the right reasons," he said. "We helped ensure adequate volume for quality care at both Littleton Regional Hospital and at AVH. We concentrate on those things we can do well."

He points with pride to a promise now made by WMC's primary care providers (PCPs): Same Day Primary Care — call by noon and get an appointment that day. Mr. Howe said, "You can get an appointment when you don't feel well, and you don't have to wait two weeks to see a PCP."

These changes have followed a streamlining of bureaucracy. The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Alliance was transformed on January 1st into the New England Alliance for Health (NEAH), controlled by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC), Mr. Howe explained.

This was accompanied by a gradual shift in how signage, including the sign on the main entrance canopy over the front door. A jaunty "W" has replaced the Alliance logo.

"Contractual services and benefits continue but the bureaucracy, put in place when managed care appeared to be growing, has been streamlined," Mr. Howe said. Group purchasing of supplies and insurance produce the biggest savings, and the group continues to set the quality assurance bar high.

NEAH includes a group of community hospitals, behavioral health centers, and home healthcare agencies that came together in a shared commitment to improve the quality, efficiency, and availability of health care in N. H., Vermont, and western Mass.

The three Cos hospitals — WMC, Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital (UCVH) in Colebrook, and Androscoggin Valley Hospital (AVH) in Berlin — have formed a Collaboration to look at options to better accomplish their healthcare mission together. One step that has already been taken is to ensure that a general surgeon is on hand, ready to provide care somewhere in the county 24/7.

First Colebrook Bank president Jim Tibbetts described the progress made by the three Cos hospitals at the breakfast held on Wednesday morning at the Mountain View Grand in Whitefield before the Governor and Council meeting.

"The three hospitals have been working together to see how they can support each other and deliver the services that are needed and can be justified both from an economical and volume analysis," Mr. Tibbetts explained to Gov. John Lynch and the five Executive Counselors.

"The first area that they have come together on is the home health area," he said. "They have agreed to combine the three agencies into one while maintaining the same staff and same offices. The hospitals will save somewhere between $350,000 and $500,000 and should be transparent to those being served."

Matin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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