Meeting emphasized evolution of healthcare
Evolution of healthcare emphasized at annual gathering
Upheaval—be it political, legal, social, personal or financial— became the overarching theme of discussions in hallways and conference rooms last week during the American College of Healthcare Executives’ annual meeting in Chicago.
“As we gather here, without question, dramatic change is the pivotal reality healthcare executives are facing,” incoming ACHE Chairwoman Gayle Capozzalo said in her opening remarks on the first day of the Congress on Healthcare Leadership. “The bottom line is, whether or not we embrace it, the healthcare industry is in the midst of the significant and swiftly moving evolution of our professional lifetimes.”
About 4,900 people attended the meeting, packing one of the city’s largest hotels, the Hyatt Regency Chicago. The 2012 attendance figure was the second-highest ever, easily topping last year’s 4,500 attendees, according to statistics provided by the healthcare executives’ organization.
The meeting took place exactly two years after Congress passed of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which has introduced a wave of changes to healthcare reimbursement and performance expectations, even though it remains hotly contested in the federal courts. (See related story, p. 12.) By the end of June, the Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision that could leave the 900-page law wholly intact, make some changes, or wipe it out entirely.
Richard Pollack, executive vice president for advocacy and public policy at the American Hospital Association, said the trade groups’ legal analysts tell him the outcome of the case could be a “slam dunk” in favor of the law’s proponents, with as many as seven of the nine Supreme Court justices coming down in favor of the law.
If the law is upheld, and if President Barack Obama is re-elected in November, then the hospital industry will have its first real opportunity to “fix” provisions of the law that negatively affect hospitals, Pollack told his audience of more than 1,000 executives.
However, not all forms of change discussed at the meeting were as unpredictable as national elections and the federal judiciary.
Daniel Callahan, the president emeritus of bioethics institute the Hastings Center in Garrison, N.Y., said healthcare executives are caught between increasing demands for improvements in the efficiency of healthcare delivery and the use of evidence- based treatments. Yet advocates often miss another fundamental goal: educating a graying public that will have “bottomless patient expectations” as their life expectancies grow.
“The average person is going to die probably beyond the age of 85 soon, with an awful lot of things wrong with them at the same time,” Callahan said.
Alyson Pitman Giles, a past chairwoman of the ACHE, said many executives lately have been talking about administrative shake-ups and experiencing the painful, personal toll they can exact.
Giles said she went through her own shake-up in 1988, when her longtime mentor was terminated and Giles found her own job demoted and responsibilities downgraded.
She urged other executives to talk about those hurtful and embarrassing situations with others. “If you haven’t been through what we euphemistically call a ‘transition,’ you will,” Giles said.
Sometimes even violent change can hold long-term positive benefits, though. In one session, executives with the former St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Mo., described how they saw their hospital smashed by an Ef5-strength tornado and then eventually knocked down by the wrecking ball. (See related story, p. 6.)
Yet hospital CEO Gary Pulsipher repeatedly used the word “blessed” to describe how he felt in the days and months afterward, as corporate parent Mercy responded with an immediate action plan that will eventually entail spending nearly $1 billion on recovery and rebuilding efforts.
All the while, the system continued paying its workers and committed to keeping them employed. A foundation took in $1.7 million to help hospital employees buy new homes or cars, and the system continues to provide counseling for post-traumatic stress. A new Mercy Joplin Hospital is slated to open by 2015.