Mood at Lutheran improves

June 12th, 2018

By Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

Community Health Systems is on pace to fulfill its promised $500 million capital investment in Lutheran Health Network, officials say. 

The Franklin, Tennessee-based parent company made the commitment in May 2017, saying it would make the investment over five to six years.

By the end of last year, CHS had spent the first $100 million on projects that include buying new beds for all patient rooms, upgrading Lutheran Hospital's imaging equipment, and renovating various RediMed clinics and Lutheran Medical Group offices.

A $6.1 million renovation of Lutheran Hospital's emergency department that will add eight rooms is scheduled to be completed in August. Pediatric intensive care units in Lutheran and Dupont hospitals are in the midst of extensive makeovers, too.

Shipments continue to arrive and construction is ongoing throughout the eight-hospital network. Mike Poore, who was named Lutheran Health Network's interim CEO a year ago, has spreadsheets that detail plans for $444 million in capital spending through 2022.

The investments are already paying surprising dividends. 

Some of Lutheran's past critics are now crediting the health care system for its progress. That includes at least one of the doctors who sought to break with CHS a year ago and another who publicly condemned the organization for canceling his contract.

Thinking strategically

Poore, who dropped interim from his title six months ago, is elbow-deep in implementing CHS' strategic plans for Lutheran's network.

Among the parent company's priorities are increasing patients' access to care, reducing re-admissions, recruiting primary-care doctors and safely transferring patients to CHS facilities in emergency situations.

Lutheran's network has expanded and upgraded its stat transfer center, which is similar to an air traffic control center, monitoring weather and flight patterns for the network's three helicopters. The transfer center knows where every open bed is within Lutheran's network and directs patient transfers.

For example, a patient with a complex medical condition would likely be taken to Lutheran Hospital. That might be a premature baby born in one of the outlying counties or the victim of a car crash.

“We want to make it the easiest place to get your patient taken care of,” Poore said.

Lutheran's network includes more than 100 sites where patients are seen, when doctors' offices and RediMed clinics are included. And it opened one of the state's first free-standing emergency departments in Statewood Plaza at State and Coliseum boulevards in 2016, a year before the $500 million investment announcement.   

Lutheran officials are also coordinating with facilities to improve care provided after patients are released from a hospital stay. Those providers include long-term acute care facilities for patients on ventilators, various rehabilitation centers and at-home care.  

While that's going on, the network is making investments across the board. Among the Lutheran Hospital upgrades have been all new furniture for the lobby and construction of more private admission bays.

But not all the spending has been obvious to the public. CHS bought $3 million worth of neurosurgical instruments that most people will never see.

Lutheran's network, which employs more than 7,200 workers, has also recruited 14 new physicians this year, Poore said.

Positive feedback about CHS has found its way to Poore.

“What I hear over and over again is: 'These people have done what they said they were going to do,' ” he said.

Making peace  

A year ago, 10 local physicians pressured CHS to sell majority control of Lutheran Health Network to an investment firm.

They, and their supporters, said the parent company for years had siphoned profits earned here to prop up failing hospitals under the CHS umbrella.

CHS rejected the $2.4 billion buyout offer, calling it at least $1 billion too low.

Dr. Vincent Scavo, a cardiothoracic surgeon, was one of those 10 doctors. Last fall, rumor had it that Scavo's contract wasn't being renewed and he would be sent packing at the end of 2017. Things didn't work out that way, however.

Late last month, between performing heart surgeries at Lutheran Hospital, Scavo said eight of the 10 physicians are still working at Lutheran, where conditions have improved.

“We have gotten a significant commitment of resources we have asked for and have made significant progress,” he said. “The perception is that the quality is not good here, and that's not true.”

Scavo, who is medical director of Lutheran Health Physicians, is also president-elect of Lutheran Hospital's medical staff. Even so, he clarified that he was speaking only for himself, not his peers.

Among the reasons for his commitment, Scavo said, is that Lutheran Hospital handles highly complex medical cases that standard benchmarks aren't designed to accurately measure. That includes the Leapfrog Group, which this spring gave the hospital its third consecutive D this year for quality and safety based on incomplete and outdated data, he said. Some of the data used was recorded in 2014.

Lutheran Hospital, which employs seven heart surgeons, is known for providing quality cardiac care, Scavo said.

The hospital's cardiac surgery caseload has increased 9 percent over last year, he added.

The Journal Gazette's interview with Scavo was suggested and arranged by top administrators and took place in the hospital's board room.

Scavo said he wasn't coerced into declaring his allegiance.

“I'm committed to Lutheran Hospital,” he said, “because it's right for the patients.”

Moving ahead

Dr. Rudy Kachmann was blindsided and heartbroken last fall when Lutheran Health Network officials canceled his contract to coach network employees on wellness practices.

But his bitterness didn't last. Since then, Kachmann has continued giving lectures on the connection between mind and body, his lifelong passion. 

His free, monthly talks on weight loss, diabetes prevention, addiction and other topics are in the Kachmann Auditorium in Lutheran Hospital. 

Kachmann said his relationship with the health care provider and its leaders is solid.

“Lutheran lets me do my thing there, no problem,” he said. “I'm here trying to educate people on how to be healthy.”

Kachmann offers free weekly appointments at 3 Rivers Pharmacy on North Anthony Boulevard for people who need coaching on diabetes prevention and other wellness topics. He also continues to present talks on those topics on local cable access, radio and online.

The 82-year-old retired neurosurgeon is concerned about people's health. But he isn't concerned about the quality of care provided by Lutheran Hospital.

“It was never as bad as people tried to paint it,” he said.

At corporate headquarters, CHS officials are upbeat.

“Over the past year, the Lutheran team has made great progress in their work to enhance services, facilities, and most importantly, quality care for patients,” spokeswoman Tomi Galen said in a statement.

“Mike (Poore) and the hospital leadership teams are incredibly focused on strategic investments, and they are working closely and collaboratively with their medical staffs to make Lutheran an even stronger healthcare system,” she said. “We are excited about the accomplishments so far – and look forward to even more progress in the months ahead.”

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