August 10, 2010

All Saints' decline in patients may be a good thing, official says

All Saints has seen a decline in patients and total patient days over the past year, but that may be a good thing. 

Racine's hospital has had a 12.4 percent decline in admissions and nearly 9 percent decline in patient days from June 2009 to June 2010, according to Wisconsin Hospital Association Data. Both declines were more than three-times larger than the average of all hospitals in southeastern Wisconsin. 

Susan Boland, All Saints' senior vice president and chief operating officer, said the data was not sophisticated enough to measure what was really happening in area hospitals. For example, All Saints is making a concerted effort to provide follow-up treatment to 300 patients with congestive heart failure who are prone to frequent stays in the hospital. The program is working, which means fewer hospital admissions and patient days. 

In another example, Boland said All Saints is helping some patients improve their health by improving their basic life situation. The hospital provides assistance to help people get food, prescription drugs and even pay their rent. That, in turn, reduces the chance they'll need to be checked back into the hospital.  

And in a third, she said All Saints' surgeons are using new technology and techniques that reduce the amount of time required to stay in the hospital. Surgeries that a few years ago required an overnight stay are now done in a day. That cuts down on people's need to stay in a hospital bed, and gives them an opportunity to convalesce at home.  

These programs, and several others, are designed to reduce the numbers of admissions and patients days at All Saints, Boland said. "Those are the right kind of drops," she said. 

Boland also noted the economy affects the use of the health care system. If people are unemployed, or worried about losing their job, they'll put off getting a knee looked at or their carpal tunnel fixed. 

"People are asking, 'Can I afford to be out of work?'" Boland said. "That plays a substantial role in the numbers." 

Of course, nearly every hospital in southeastern Wisconsin is working under the same conditions and trying to implement similar changes. So why did All Saints' admissions and patient days drop more than three times the average for hospitals in southeastern Wisconsin? 

One theory Boland ruled out: People are leaving All Saints for Wheaton-Franciscan's new hospital in Franklin. While the Franklin hospital saw a 30.9 percent increase in admission and 65.9 percent increase in patient days, most of those patients came from Milwaukee County.

Boland said the Franklin hospital, which has one-tenth the number of beds as All Saints, was built to fill a niche in the market, not to replace any of Wheaton's hospitals. 

So what caused the drop in admissions and patient days? Boland said it was All Saints "aligning" its services  to become more efficient and effective. 

She added All Saints did see a slight increase - less than 1 percent - in use of its Emergency Department, which was ranked among the top 5 percent in the country. Racine's ED will get a new service this fall when it adds an around-the-clock "pediatric hospitalist" to work with children in the hospital. It's a rare position for any emergency department, Boland said. 

"Our emergency department is not just local and easy to get to," Boland said. "It's a place where you can have an exceptional outcome." 

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