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Two Wyoming hospitals explore a partnership

Bob Beck
Wyoming Public Radio
Medical staff congregates in the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center Emergency Room.

The Cheyenne Regional Medical center and the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper are considering a partnership that they believe may be necessary to remain financially strong in the future.  They are looking at ways to share things from medical providers to joining together to enhance health care across the state.   Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports that neither hospital CEO is positive the partnership will work, but they both believe they need to give it a shot in order to remain financially viable.

(Sound of hospital)    

BOB BECK:  This is the emergency room of the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.  A doctor talks to a patient behind a curtain, nurses check vital signs and paramedics fill out paperwork.  Like a lot of hospitals in the country, it is at a crossroads.  With cost of health care increasing and competition from specialists in Colorado the hospital is looking into a partnership with the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper to see if working together can improve affordability, patient access and quality. But maybe more importantly, allow both hospitals to stay competitive.  John Lucas is the CEO of Cheyenne Regional…

DR. JOHN LUCAS:      So we want to make sure that we are the choice for Wyoming residents in terms of our doctors and our hospitals.  We want to be the choice, we want to keep care in Wyoming.

Beck:  Right now that has been a challenge in particular for Cheyenne who is having a tough time competing with the specialists in Colorado. 

Lucas says by working with the hospital in Casper they could either share specialists or more easily afford their own.  They could also consolidate administrative services to save money and possibly do other things…

LUCAS:  We want to look at optimizing and regionalizing our clinical programs, so we want to be more than providing care in Casper and Cheyenne.  We would like to provide care to most of the state.

BECK:  While providing good care to more people might be part of the goal, both hospitals believe the key to long term survival is to improve their reach.   That’s because they are losing patients and revenue when people leave the state.    The President of the Cheyenne regional board of trustees Doctor Jean Halpern says if patients from border hospitals go out of state, the loss of revenue could force the reduction of health care.  …

JEAN HALPERN: The attrition does potentially put more and more pressure on our local hospitals to be able to provide the care that we want to, to our local populations. 

BECK:  In Casper, Wyoming Medical Center C-E-O Vicki Diamond says rising costs and pressure from outside interests tell her that if some sort of action isn’t taken, it could impact the type of local health care residents can get.  That’s why she’s a fan of the partnership concept…

VICKI DIAMOND:  We are all facing major health reform going on and the reimbursement system is changing and we also are being very aggressively approached, many of our hospitals, by out of state systems wanting to take that higher end specialty care out of state.  Also we need to be more efficient in our care delivery and reduce our cost.  And we can do that better together than by ourselves.

BECK:  Diamond says one other benefit of a partnership is that the hospitals could share specialists that might not have the volume to remain in Wyoming.  She says that is actually happening now…

DIAMOND:  Both of us have two heart surgeons.  We both need based on volume one and a half heart surgeons.  So Cheyenne lost a heart surgeon, so instead of them hiring another heart surgeon, our heart surgeon has agreed to go down and fill that half time position.  That’s what we see going forward. 

BECK:  The other thing that both hospital administrators see happening is working with other hospitals and medical providers in Wyoming to see if they can expand this partnership across the state.  That’s caught the attention of Wyoming’s medical community.  Doctor Cynthia Casey provides rural primary care in the Gillette area.  She understands the economics of such a partnership but she admits there is a level of discomfort…

DR. CYNTHIA CASEY:  My concern is that as these larger facilities consolidate the unintended consequence of that is their going to force out the private practitioner and maybe even force the closure of some of the smaller community hospitals who just cannot compete economically.

BECK:  And while both hospital’s see their partnership as a long term plan of improving health care coverage in the state…Dr. Casey has her doubts…

CASEY :  I believe it’s the best route they can go to maintain the access those two facilities already provide for their patients.  It’s difficult for me to see how that’s going to improve access to quality and care away from those two areas. 

BECK:  Still she admits that if Wyoming residents not located near the state border at any point are forced to leave the state for specialty care, that’s a problem.  Wyoming Medical Center Vicki Diamond says that’s why this discussion is so important…

DIAMOND :  We could actually have to reduce services.  And we are a tertiary referral center, we do the most traumas in the state and you know we may not be able to provide all of that.  When that happens, people in Wyoming die, because you have to be transferred out state for those things.  Time is critical.

BECK:  While medical personnel at the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center mill around in the ER, CEO John Lucas says administrators have some very important decisions to make. He believes that if the two hospitals can work out the details, this could be a very important decision for health care in the state.  For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.

Bob Beck has been News Director of Wyoming Public Radio since 1988. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.
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