“Mark this down in history, folks.”
With those words Olympic Medical Center board chairman Jim Cammack announced the successful vote that ties OMC together with Swedish Medical Center for the next 20 years. The board voted unanimously to approve the agreement during its Wednesday, Oct. 19, meeting.
The new agreement establishes Swedish as OMC’s new “tertiary affiliate,” a big organization that will bring more services to the peninsula while providing OMC with better leverage for dealing with America’s rapidly changing health care system.
OMC CEO Eric Lewis said while OMC will remain under local governance, the new agreement with Swedish will provide a number of advantages to OMC and to patients. Perhaps most importantly, Lewis said, the affiliation will bring additional clinical services to Clallam County.
OMC now utilizes Swedish’s “telestroke” system under an existing contract, but under the new agreement Swedish soon will bring two neurologists to Sequim. Expanded cardiology services, sleep medicine, endocrinology and other telemedicine services also may be in the cards.
Lewis also touted the advantages of sharing in EPIC, which he described as “the best” electronic medical record-keeping product available. Lewis said 75 percent of Seattle-area hospitals soon will have EPIC in place. Because OMC is relatively small, it was ineligible to purchase the system on its own.
OMC also will save “significantly” by tapping into the buying group now utilized by Swedish. VHA “is the biggest in the country,” Lewis said.
As the nation moves toward an accountable care model — leaving behind the old fee-for-service model — Swedish will be invaluable, Lewis said.
Lewis’ words were prescient: The next day, Oct. 20, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, finalized new rules under the Affordable Care Act to guide doctors, hospitals and other health care providers in better coordinating care for Medicare patients through Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs).
ACOs create incentives for health care providers to work together to treat an individual patient across care settings — including doctors’ offices, hospitals and long-term care facilities. A spokesman for the centers said “the Medicare Shared Savings Program will reward ACOs that lower their growth in health care costs while meeting performance standards on quality of care and putting patients first.”
Provider participation in an ACO is voluntary.
And finally, Lewis said, Swedish will provide OMC with numerous smaller services, from educational opportunities to consulting services.
Lewis repeatedly pointed out that under the agreement OMC will remain independent and under local control. He also noted that the agreement says that after two years either side “can get out.”
The board members each praised the agreement, with Dr. John Miles saying, “Everything in the medical field in the U.S. points to the need for larger groups. If you stay small, you will perish.”
Board member John Nutter echoed Miles’ comment: “Status quo isn’t going to work,” he said. “We have to find efficiencies to keep (OMC) open — and this is a step.”
Board member Jean Hordyk said, “It’s exciting — and it’s scary. But this is where health care is going.”
Lewis noted the agreement approved by the board is simply an “umbrella,” providing a framework for future agreements.
“All of the other agreements will have to be done individually,” he said.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.