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Health care announcements set the stage for change in 2018

January 4th, 2018

By Bridgett Hernandez | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

This year carried no shortage of health care news with several major projects underway in northeast Indiana and plenty of new faces on the scene. At the same time, health networks have continued to grow to meet the demand for increased access while they reevaluate how to best serve patients.

Major announcements and revelations have set the stage for change in 2018, and these developments will certainly continue to shake up the region’s health care landscape in the new year.

Welcoming new faces

Next year, the number of major health care networks in the northeast Indiana market will grow from two to three.

In September, IU Health announced that Riley Children’s Health would open a pediatric specialty office in Fort Wayne. The outpatient clinic, which will be located at 409 E. Cook Road, will feature 12 exam rooms and equipment for specific office-based procedures and diagnostic testing.

The office is scheduled to open on Jan. 12, IU Health spokesman Jeff Swiatek said in an emailed statement. Pediatric urology, cardiology, pulmonology, gastroenterology and rheumatology will be the first specialties to see patients.

IU Health made another big announcement just a month later: It will bring a primary care medical office to Fort Wayne at 7230 Engle Road. The office will open with at least 10 physicians and advanced practitioners with the potential to grow to 15 to 20, Swiatek said. It’s scheduled to open in the spring.

In the same announcement, IU Health revealed that it has big plans for the region.

“IU Health foresees a long-term presence in the Fort Wayne market with more outpatient locations and additional health care investments coming over time,” the announcement read.

Local officials have hinted at the prospect of IU Health building a hospital in Fort Wayne, potentially on the 29-acre “North River” property that the city recently agreed to buy for $6.3 million. However, Swiatek said it’s too soon to comment on specific properties.

“While we are actively assessing locations that will support us providing care to the residents of northeast Indiana, we are not yet in a position to comment on specific properties outside of our Engle Road location,” he said.

Sweeping change

As 2017 comes to an end, Lutheran Health Network is in the process of rebuilding itself – literally and in the public eye. Internal conflict became the stuff of headlines after news broke last spring that a group of doctors and others had tried to buy out the local network from Tennessee-based Community Health Systems.

According to those who staged the unsuccessful buyout, CHS has failed to invest in the local network. The cash-strapped CHS sold off other hospitals to generate funds to pay down its debt over the last several months. Lutheran is one of the most successful operation CHS owns, the parent company previously stated.

In response, CHS announced plans to invest $500 million in capital projects at Lutheran Health Network facilities across northeast Indiana over the next five to six years. But for those in favor of a sale, the announcement was too little, too late, and they continued to apply pressure on CHS to sell.

The unsuccessful attempt ultimately resulted in the firing and resignation of several administrators and doctors.

Brian Bauer, who was fired from his role as CEO of Lutheran Health Network and Lutheran Hospital, has been instrumental in IU Health entering the Fort Wayne marketplace, according to IU Health.

Dr. Geoffrey Randolph, who was also fired from his role at Lutheran as chief medical officer, will serve in a similar capacity for IU Health.

Making progress

“It’s been a tough year, but our staff never lost their focus, never lost their passion,” said Mike Poore, who was appointed regional president and CEO of Lutheran Health Network in August. His appointment was one of several leadership transitions across the network.

The staff’s dedication was highlighted in a video project called “My Why,” which captured staff members’ reasons for their choice of career in health care. Spearheaded by nursing leadership at Lutheran Hospital, the network has shared the project with the public on TV commercials.

“When I first saw the video, it actually brought tears to my eyes,” Poore said. “They are so dedicated and focused on giving the best patient care.”

He said the network has made major progress on its capital improvement plan, spending $100 million on projects in 2017. This includes the addition of a second combined operating room and cath lab for doing procedures like valve replacement through a catheter.

The emergency department expansion at Lutheran Hospital is also nearly completed, Poore said.

Lutheran also announced plans to build a new downtown hospital to replace St. Joseph Hospital, which has been in the same location at Main Street and Broadway since 1869. The new hospital will be in a completely new site that has yet to be revealed.

“I’m hoping to announce the location in the first quarter of 2018,” Poore said.

Building on growth

Talent attraction continued to be a constant effort for Parkview Health in 2017, said Eric Clabaugh, Parkview Health spokesman.

Demands for increased access in the region have driven growth, he said. This fall, the network announced that it was looking to fill more than 850 open positions, including more than 300 newly created jobs. In addition, the network’s physicians group grew from about 550 to about 700 providers in 2017.

Clabaugh said the network is also working to expand and enhance its telemedicine offerings in an effort to better serve patients.

In June, Parkview Health celebrated achieving what many health-care professionals consider the “gold standard” in nursing excellence: magnet status. The designation recognizes health-care organizations for quality patient care, nursing excellence and innovations in professional nursing practice.

Magnet status is a source of pride for the entire network, Clabaugh said, but it may also play a role in attracting talent.

“When nurses are out there looking to identify where they would like to support and provide care and help serve the needs of the community, being magnet says a lot of things about who you are as an organization and your culture of patient care,” he said.

In the new year, Parkview is moving forward on several major projects. In early June, construction will be complete on the Parkview Cancer Institute at Parkview Regional Medical Center. And in late June, the network will open its new hospital in Wabash.

In addition to these facilities, Parkview is working on a new greenhouse and learning kitchen on the Parkview Behavioral Health campus with the goal of better supporting the community with education and resources dedicated to nutrition, specifically fresh, healthy, affordable produce. The target audience will be adults age 65 and older who live in food deserts.

“We’ll be growing food there to help support certain areas identified as food deserts within the community and creating a new resource for the aging population,” Clabaugh said.

Parkview broke ground on the project in the fall and is expected to complete the project next summer.