Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read July 2021 — The healthcare landscape has drastically changed with the eruption of COVID-19. Accelerated adoption of medical-related technologies, the outside-the-box search for cost-effective and quality care and a growing talent gap are but a few of the new developments that the Tennessee market is facing, according to Tim Adams, president and CEO of Ascension Saint Thomas.
How has the virtual space influenced your healthcare delivery operations?
One of the bright spots associated with the pandemic has been the accelerated adoption of telehealth services by consumers and providers. Prior to the pandemic, we saw less than 1% of our patient visits virtually. Adoption of virtual technology was absent for consumers and providers. At the height of the pandemic, almost 40% of our physician office visits were managed via telehealth. Additionally, we offered innovative care through our remote patient monitoring program. We deployed this technology to monitor patients safely at home— their blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen levels and other vital signs — using tablets and video technology. This allowed for hospital capacity to best manage and treat our highest acuity patients. We also were the first health system in the state to offer Hospital Care at Home. It’s an innovative model where you can receive inpatient care from the comfort and convenience of your home if you meet certain admission criteria. That space was accelerated by the pandemic and will continue to grow.
What is needed to alleviate the talent gap in the industry?
We are trying to be creative in our recruitment efforts and approach. It begins by ensuring that we are competitive from a wage and salary perspective. At the same time, we are focused on creating a great work environment and onboarding process so that when caregivers and other associates join our Ministry, they have a great experience and want to stay with us. If you look at the data, turnover in healthcare in the first 12 months can be higher than any other time period of employment. We want associates to feel welcomed and properly oriented to their new work environment. We are also trying to be more flexible and creative in work schedules for individuals. The pandemic taught us that some functions can be done very effectively in a remote setting. The ability to have individuals work from home is an important recruitment and retention advantage.
What goes into ensuring the best access to care for some of the most vulnerable residents?
A key commitment explicitly referenced in our mission statement is our calling to care for our community’s poor and vulnerable. We provide about $160 million in care of the poor every year. We invest in access points of care throughout the market specifically for the underserved or uninsured where others do not. As opposed to looking at ways to minimize this investment, we try to find ways to do more of this work every year and make our investment dollars reach as many people as possible. Our mission is something special about us that defines our approach to serving our market and it resonates strongly with our associates and physician partners.
What other changes do you anticipate healthcare will experience going forward?
Through our work here at Ascension Saint Thomas, we are committed to lowering the cost of care. The growth in GDP spend on healthcare is unsustainable. We have a responsibility to do everything we can to try to lower that cost. Moving people toward telehealth and hospital care at home and better managing their care on an outpatient basis are essential components of those efforts. We have navigators who manage and support patients and ensure they’re getting the wellness and preventive care they need. We participate in what is called a Medicare-Shared Savings Program to better manage Medicare patients on an outpatient basis to keep expenditures down. In this last reporting period, we saved about $24 million in spending by managing the health of 34,000 individuals who were part of this MSSP program.
What are your main near-term priorities?
Strengthening our workforce is a top priority for us. We are a large employer with a legacy in this market of over 100 years. Our associates and physician partners are the lifeblood of our Ministry. Additionally, key priorities include investing in meeting the needs of our communities. Middle Tennessee is a great place to work, live and raise a family. We’re a growing market and we will support that growth by creating access points and services to strategically meet the needs of our communities while developing partnerships and clinical affiliations that strengthen our system of care. Our recently-opened behavioral hospital in partnership with Acadia will play a major role for the community going forward. One out of five people this year will suffer from a behavioral health disorder and 75% of them will go untreated. Additionally, we have partnerships and clinical affiliations with USPI on outpatient surgery centers, Kindred on inpatient rehab, Results Physiotherapy on outpatient rehab, Premier Radiology on outpatient imaging, Urgent Team on urgent care, Kroger Health on retail clinics and Contessa on Hospital Care at Home, to name a few. We are a highly collaborative system that is focused on building partnerships. We are also excited to be in the process of developing the state’s first neighborhood hospital, also sometimes referred to as a “micro-hospital,” in Rutherford County. We’re excited to break ground in late summer or early Fall 2021 on that project.
Finally, we will always invest in care of the poor and in meeting the healthcare needs of the underserved or uninsured. Middle Tennessee, sadly, is one of 12 states that has not expanded Medicaid. A lot of Middle Tennesseans do not have healthcare coverage. Making healthcare accessible, affordable and innovative remains a strong purpose for us and always top of mind.
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