You’ve heard the saying, “strength in numbers.” As a large group, people have access to more ideas, more information, and are better able to survive, thanks to the help of others. That’s pretty much the thinking behind the new BridgeCare Health Network recently formed by five southeastern Colorado hospitals. This innovative coalition aims to improve care for patients while helping hospitals stay independent to better serve their respective communities.
“Leaders from each hospital have been talking informally for several years about joining together so each hospital can stay autonomous and avoid being absorbed by a large hospital system. In order to stay independent—and provide as many services as possible to our communities—we created a way to share resources and best care practices. As a group, we’re stronger for our patients,” said Craig Loveless, Chief Executive Officer for Prowers Medical Center, and acting secretary/treasurer for the BridgeCare Health Network board.
The network not only benefits the hospitals by creating a united front, it also benefits patients by expanding services and making it easier to access care. For example, hospitals can join together to hire a specialty physician, such as an orthopedist, and make them available to see patients in a few or all of the communities. Another example is hospitals can come together and offer services they couldn’t before, like bringing together all pharmacists to provide oversight 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—something one hospital can’t do alone.
“We are also creating a direct admit process where if a patient goes to the emergency department (ED) at one hospital and needs to be transferred for a higher level of care, they can bypass the ED at the next hospital and head directly to the ICU. It not only allows for faster care, it also saves patients money by eliminating a second copay for a second ED visit, and the need to repeat exams or tests,” said Pam Burnelis, Executive Director for BridgeCare Health Network.
The network is made up of three representatives from each hospital, the CEO, a doctor and a board member. For Prowers Medical Center, this includes Craig Loveless, Dr. Rick Ray, and Hospital Board Chair Julie Branes. The hospitals in the network include: Mt. San Rafael Hospital (Trinidad), Parkview Medical Center (Pueblo), Prowers Medical Center (Lamar), Southeast Colorado Hospital District (Springfield), and Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center (Walsenberg). The network currently has three focuses: increase quality of care, improve data sharing and access, and keep healthcare local, limiting the need for patients to have to travel to receive care.
Patients at all hospitals will benefit from efforts to standardize the way care is given across all of the hospitals, adopting the industry’s very best care protocols for several procedures. For example, ED standards will be the same at every hospital, as will protocols for a number of procedures, lab work ups, pharmacy policies and more. Implemented standards are national standards of care set by the Centers for Disease Control and committees of experts in each field.
“It’s peace of mind for patients to know they are consistently receiving care in a method that’s been proven to produce the best possible outcomes,” Loveless said.
By sharing data, the network will be better able to provide evidenced-based medicine. While one hospital might just see 20 cases of a certain disease a year, together, they might see 200 cases. By using the data from the whole group, care will be improved at all facilities.
In addition, hospitals will be able to save money by sharing resources and increasing their buying power when it comes to negotiating with vendors and suppliers. Buying medicines and supplies for five hospitals versus one means lower prices overall.
“The network is a creative way for rural hospitals to come together as one, giving them a larger voice and more capabilities to succeed in this challenging healthcare climate,” Burnelis concluded.