EMHS nears self-imposed deadline to become country’s best rural health system

Posted June 14, 2012, at 12:50 a.m.
Last modified June 14, 2012, at 11:04 a.m.
Michelle Hood
Michelle Hood

BREWER, Maine — Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems in 2007 declared a goal to become the best rural health care system in the country within five years.

With its 2012 fiscal year drawing to a close in September, the clock is winding down on that bold vision, EMHS President and CEO Michelle Hood said Wednesday at an annual meeting of the system’s corporators, a group of community members who provide oversight of the health organization. EMHS, the parent organization of Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and six other hospitals, has made tremendous progress in striving towards that goal, she said.

“We are absolutely operating within the national spotlight in many, many categories — in our quality initiatives, in our patient outreach initiatives, in our integration initiatives,” she said after the meeting.

Hood pointed to the system’s No. 78 ranking in a compilation of the top 100 integrated health care networks in the country by health technology firm IMS, which evaluates criteria including quality indicators, community outreach and financial performance.

Only nine other health systems on IMS’ top 100 list serve rural areas, placing EMHS within the top 10 rural health systems in the country, Hood said.

MaineHealth, parent organization to Maine Medical Center in Portland, placed 67th on the list.

Hood highlighted the $12.7 million federal Beacon Community Grant awarded to EMHS by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Now in its third year, the grant is designed to expand the use of health information technology and improve the coordination of care for people with chronic illness, such as diabetes and congestive heart failure.

Rates of hospital admissions, emergency department visits and uncontrolled diabetes have dropped among more than 1,100 patients participating in the Beacon community, Hood said.

EMHS also recently embarked on a pilot program to improve the quality, efficiency and cost of health care as an accountable care organization. EMHS is one of 32 hospital systems and physician groups in the country pioneering the model, which gives providers incentives to give better care at lower costs.

ACOs have gained momentum with the passage of the federal health reform law.

But the health care world will continue to move away from a broken system that pays doctors by the procedure or visit regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the federal law’s constitutionality, Hood said.

“I think everyone believes that the reform train has left the station,” she said. “We are on the way to forming a new health care delivery system for this country.”

The Supreme Court is expected to rule by late June.

In a vote before Wednesday’s meeting, the corporators, a 200-member group charged with providing community oversight of EMHS and its affiliates, unanimously endorsed a list of new and reappointed corporators and board members. The same slates were approved later Wednesday at a meeting of the EMHS board of directors.

CORRECTION:

An early version of this story incorrectly said there are five hospitals in Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems other than Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. There are six.

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