In the scant two months since University of Colorado Health took over operations at Memorial Hospital, it’s been anything but business as usual.
Despite the progress, officials acknowledge there’s still a lot of work to be done to steady Memorial’s financial picture and bring patients and doctors back to the hospital.
UCH has spent a “not insignificant amount” of money on new hires, new technology and a new electronic health-record system that’s set to go online late next year, said CEO Bruce Schroffel.
“We’re implementing a new electronic health-record system. Epic is the best, the Cadillac of electronic records,” he said. “Patients will be able to log in and check lab results, will be able to make appointments, will be able to communicate with their doctors. That’s a huge expense, but we think it will make the patient experience so much better — and the staff has really embraced it.”
UCH also has purchased two major surgical systems for Memorial: the Da Vinci, a robotic surgical system, and the O-arm, a medical imaging system for spinal surgery.
On top of that, the hospital system has hired about 90 new employees — 14 cardiologists, a breast cancer doctor and 75 support staffers. Memorial’s employed physician group grew by 40 percent in the first two months of the lease.
“We’re starting off strong,” Schroffel said. “I wish we could have started even stronger. We started the conversations with the physicians as soon as the (August lease approval) election was over; our real goal is to get those physicians to come back to Memorial, to take another look. It’s going well, but we still have a long way to go.”
UCH is working to repair years of suspicion and mistrust after the protracted debate about Memorial’s future left many doctors unwilling to work there. Uncertainties about its ownership and direction still linger, Schroffel said.
Over a period of two-plus years, the city appointed a citizens commission and three additional task forces, then executed a request-for-proposal process — and finally in January 2012 chose UCH to lease Memorial Health System in Colorado Springs. Then it took months to negotiate the new lease, weeks of campaigning to pass it and then, finally, an 83 percent approval from Springs voters.
That process wasn’t good for the hospital’s finances or its reputation. Physicians are still wary about signing on at Memorial, Schroffel said.
“It’d be disingenuous to say otherwise,” he said. “But we’re talking to physicians, letting them get to know us, know our strengths — we have a reputation for quality and integrity. But right now, there is some residual concern. It’s just going to take a long time to change that.”
It’s also going to take a long time to get Memorial’s financial house back in order. Mike Scialdone, CEO of Memorial, said that despite investments in the hospital’s staff and infrastructure during the first two months of the lease, very little has changed yet on the hospital’s balance sheet.
“We’re really not seeing much change in patient volume,” Scialdone said. “It’s still down from where it was in 2008. Part of that is just the economy, people are still putting off elective surgery, but we still have some work to do — and it’s just going to take time to get the patient numbers up where they need to be.”
Memorial no longer has any debt, thanks to the lease transaction, which eases pressure on its bottom line, Scialdone said.
“We’re just going to be focused on providing high-quality care to patients,” he said. “It’s refreshing to be focused on great health care instead of politics and all the talking done during the past three years. We’ve gotten our stroke certification from the Joint Commission, a sign we’re focused on excellence.”
The most positive change, he says, is finally being able to put questions about the hospital system to rest. But he also adds that its financial status won’t change immediately.
“We won’t see a change overnight, and it’s only been a few months,” he said. “We have to show people the changes — not by what we say, but by what we’re doing.”
Scialdone doesn’t yet have financials for November, because of the complex arrangement with the Children’s Hospital of Colorado, now in charge of Memorial’s Children’s Hospital.
“We’ll have a better picture in a few months, when there’s been enough time to do a deep dive,” he said. “Right now, it’s important that we have the financial stability from UCH. We weren’t sitting still during the transition, and we’re in pretty good shape moving forward.”
Memorial now is concentrating on physician recruitment at all levels, he said.
“We’re working to meet physicians where they’re at, whether they want to collaborate or work full-time. We’re addressing their issues with professional services and we’re working toward creating a vibrant collaboration. Now that the lease is behind us, we can bring a lot of this to fruition.”
Schroffel says there are signs of changing attitudes about Memorial. “Last week, we had a spike, the highest patient volume in many months and years,” he said.
That attention to excellence has brought Pikes Peak Cardiology into the Memorial fold. Its 12 doctors are now part of the Colorado Health Medical Group, a newly created physician group made up of the doctors employed by Memorial.
The group was attracted by more than the prestige of the UCH name and its reputation, said Dr. David Rosenbaum.
“Pikes Peak Cardiology has always been involved with Memorial,” he said. “We even moved our offices to their medical campus, so it’s clear to see where our allegiance lies. And we talked about doing this for years — it just took so long because of the uncertainty.”
Rosenbaum said UCH’s reputation for research and clinical studies helped seal the deal.
“Pikes Peak Cardiology has always been involved in research and clinical trials. It’s one reason I started working there,” he said. “And now our patients have access to the clinical trials and research in Denver. It makes a big difference to us.”
The community can expect to see big differences at Memorial in the coming year, Schroffel said. The hospital will continue to hire, affiliate or partner with local physicians, but it also plans some visual changes.
“It’s an old plant,” Schroffel said of Memorial’s central campus. “So we’ll be doing some construction there. We’re still creating the priority list, but there will definitely be some remodeling to make things easier for patients.”
Scialdone said the changes boil down to one thing: stability at the hospital.
“We’ve had a number of physicians talking to us now,” he said. “And it’s because UCH brings a sense of stability, of quality to Memorial. Their reputation has generated a lot of interest — and Colorado Springs could not have a better partner.”