By John Wolcott HBJ Freelance Writer
EVERETT — At a time when the complex realm of health-care services seems to be increasingly confusing and expensive, Providence Regional Medical Center Everett is finding ways to make medical care more flexible and less costly, yet more professional than ever.
Preston Simmons, the newly appointed CEO who replaced Dave Brooks when he left in January to head a major Detroit health-care facility, told The Herald Business Journal that many of those significant improvements are already happening.
“One of these changes is our established system of electronic medical records, an effort where we’ve already invested almost $1 million,” said Simmons, who came to the CEO’s role with an in-depth understanding of medical challenges, operations and future goals learned since 2007 when he became the hospital’s chief operating officer.
“With the EPIC system, the Cadillac of electronic medical records programs, we’re able to follow patients’ records throughout primary care, specialists and, if necessary, to emergency rooms, hospital stays or hospice care, so that they are always updated and available throughout our system,” he said.
EPIC also lets Providence exchange records with the Swedish health-care system as part of the new Providence-Swedish partnership.
“This system provides medical staff with access to the correct records for each patient wherever they are in either the Providence or Swedish medical system,” he said. “This is part of an exciting new way of improving health-care delivery, making it more efficient and more affordable.”
Simmons is enthused about the new era of increasing collaboration among health-care providers, such as Swedish Health Services, to create a new environment that benefits providers and patients by making more efficient use of everyone’s existing facilities, cooperating rather than duplicating.
“These new programs make health-care services more affordable by designing new ways of providing care,” he said. “Under federal health-care reform, we’re also expecting 30,000 to 40,000 more people in Snohomish County will have coverage they didn’t have before, so we have to also look at how we educate the public and serve this new population.”
He said he also hopes increased health-care coverage for previously uninsured patients will reduce the number of people going to emergency rooms for what should be treated as primary-care services, thus saving major ER expenses for non-emergency services.
Providence’s $22 million expansion of its Monroe medical clinic to 44,000 square feet, due to open in September, will also increase health-care services in East Snohomish County.
Simmons is in a unique position to study and understand the growth of regional collaborative services, not only as CEO of Providence Regional Medical Center but also in his broader role as CEO of Providence Northwest Washington and as a member of an executive team that oversees the new regional affiliation between Providence and Swedish.
“Part of our responsibility is to work as a team to provide the best health-care services and make sure that people get into the system efficiently, whether it be at Providence, Swedish, Community Health Centers or our partner physician groups in the community,” Simmons said. “We also need to educate the public more to help them understand the services and complexities of the health-care system.”
An early benefit of the collaborative approach is a savings of $4.6 million that Providence had planned to invest in high-tech medical imaging equipment and other capital at its Mill Creek campus. That level of investment won’t be necessary now that the partnership with Swedish allows Providence patients to use Swedish’s walk-in and emergency clinic that opened two years ago at I-5 and 128th Street SE.
“Our partnership helps us maximize the use of those high-cost facilities,” Simmons said.
Also, Swedish now manages the sleep lab at Providence’s Pacific Campus in Everett and the two partners have been studying improvements to Providence’s Family Maternity Center in Everett, where more than 4,000 babies are born each year. And both health-care providers are working together to better serve people entering the system through the federal Affordable Care Act.
In addition, Swedish is looking to Providence in Everett to learn about blood conservation and management in surgery, a program for which Providence has received national and international recognition.
“Providence and Swedish have a lot of history to build on,” Simmons said. “Our missions are also similar. Providence has been around for 155 years and Swedish was established 105 years ago. We are both expertly run and mission-driven. But each of us has our own strengths and best practices to share.”
Simmons said Providence and Swedish are also mutually refinancing a $22 million debt, reducing total financing fees and saving millions of dollars of interest costs. Further, Providence is working with businesses to reduce “back-office costs,” an effort expected to save millions of dollars through efficiencies in purchasing supplies and services for Swedish.
Providence also is working toward upgrading its emergency department from a “level 3” to a “level 2” trauma center, providing for higher levels of care for seriously injured patients. Only Spokane, Tacoma and Vancouver, Wash., have hospitals with that designation. The upgrade would speed medical attention for patients and reduce the number of trauma patients who need to be transported — often by helicopter — to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
“No longer is it necessary for patients to go to Seattle for higher levels of cancer and heart care, either,” Simmons said. “For years we have had top-rated programs right here in Snohomish County.”
“The geography of the Providence and Swedish service areas also makes a partnership sensible,” he said. “There are certain areas where each of us has various strengths or clinical programs where we can learn from each other.”
In south Snohomish County, the providers’ service areas overlap, so there are opportunities to come together “in a common vision to provide better care and lower costs. … I don’t think anyone else is in a position to do that kind of sharing and cooperating in an awesome vision like this,” Simmons said.
In the Pacific Northwest, Providence has health-care facilities and resources in five states that include, together with Swedish, some of the region’s top physicians, cardio-thoracic surgeons, orthopedists and neurosurgeons.
“Few health-care systems in the world have all of those capabilities and strengths and our shared electronic medical records network comprises one of the largest patient databases in the world,” Simmons said.
A decade ago, he said, paper medical records couldn’t be used as effectively as today’s centralized electronic monitoring systems that keep patients’ records available whenever and wherever needed.
Simmons said that Providence’s position in the industry, enhanced by the agreement with Swedish, also helps to attract some of the world’s best physicians and surgeons, which helps to improve patients’ medical care.
Providence is already known nationally for maintaining high quality but low cost care with recognition by regional and national news media and government leaders.
Over the past 10 years, Providence has invested nearly $1 billion locally in health-care facilities and support systems, including the Pavilion for Women and Children, the Providence Regional Cancer Partnership and the new Providence Regional Medical Center tower in north Everett.
“We have excellent business volume in the new tower and we’re largely on target with our long-term financial plan,” Simmons said.
Following Simmons’ promotion to CEO, Providence’s chief nursing officer Kim Williams has been appointed interim COO while a search is conducted for candidates to fill that position.