Commentary

Lincoln County Healthcare improves quality, lowers cost in 2013

Posted:  Thursday, February 6, 2014 - 11:00am
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Last year, 2013, was a year of headlines for Lincoln County Healthcare, but two stories say the most about the progress we have made in the past six years, and more importantly, where we are going in the future.

The first was the creation of LincolnHealth, a single critical access hospital with campuses in Damariscotta and Boothbay Harbor. This will increase our Medicare and MaineCare reimbursement by between $5 and $7 million a year and allow us to lower our prices. We lowered our prices once last year and we hope to do it again in 2014.

The other story was our second Leapfrog Award in three years for safe, high quality patient care. The Leapfrog Award is the most competitive award of its type in the nation and winning it was only possible because highly skilled, dedicated providers work together in every part of our system.  

As a system, we exist for one reason: to put great doctors, nurses and other providers in the best possible position to provide high quality care. What we do is not about corporate structure or bricks and mortar. At its most fundamental level, healthcare is about people and relationships and how those relationships can change lives and make a community healthier.

Since Lincoln County Healthcare was formed in 2007, an enormous amount of work has gone on behind the scenes to make it possible for us to improve both access and quality while lowering costs, because healthcare can’t be accessible if it is not affordable.

We are also investing in new providers to keep people healthy and help them avoid the sort of medical crises that require hospitalization and can result in a loss of independence.

At the Family Care Center in Boothbay Harbor, Pharmacist Meredith Hackett helps patients understand how to take their medications, because medications are not only a powerful tool to manage conditions, they are also one of the biggest risks to seniors if taken improperly. She can also help trim their list of medications or even help them find resources to make their medications more affordable.

When a patient is discharged from the hospital, Registered Nurse Bobbi Jo McFarland is there to help them make the transition home. Bobbi Jo, who also works at the Family Care Center, makes sure they have an appointment with their primary care provider soon after discharge and that they have transportation and the support they need to recover at home.

By providing care when patients need it most, Meredith and Bobbi Jo can help patients stay healthy and out of the emergency department. Throughout this coming year, you will be reading about other efforts we are making to keep people well. Here are a few of those initiatives:

Renovations will roughly double the space in the Wellness and Rehabilitation Department of the St. Andrews Campus of LincolnHealth. The new space will create a bigger gym, better therapy space and more room for classes to help people avoid injuries and maintain their ability to live at home.

A new wound care center on the St. Andrews Campus will also help heal the most difficult-to-heal wounds more quickly and with fewer complications.

We are also partnering with the Boothbay Region Ambulance Service, the Central Lincoln County Ambulance Service and Waldoboro Emergency Medical Service in a community paramedicine program that is the first of its kind in Maine. Emergency medical service professionals covering most of a county will provide preventative services to people who can’t reach doctors.

All of these initiatives are designed to keep people well and also make healthcare more affordable by helping people avoid the most expensive kind of care – emergency care and hospital care.

Being affordable is important now and we believe it will become even more important in the future as government insurance providers Medicare and Medicaid (MaineCare) as well as private insurance providers put increasing financial pressure on all healthcare providers.

Difficult economic times are a reality for almost every healthcare system but in Lincoln County, one of the oldest counties in the oldest state in the United States, our challenges are even greater than most.

Our costs are driven by an increasing need for healthcare as our population ages and by the rising cost of medical technology, including both pharmaceuticals and equipment. 

While the creation of LincolnHealth greatly improved our revenues and helped us to lower costs, we still have little margin for new investments or unexpected expenses. There is much more work to do, but we believe we can not only make healthcare more affordable, we can make it better and easier to access.

That mission is the reason so many people have worked so hard over the past five years and while this past year was not easy, we made great progress. Despite the challenges, we look forward to 2014 because we have great partners, from our ambulance services, to our donors and volunteers, especially the Miles Memorial Hospital League and the St. Andrews Auxiliary. With their help and with your help we believe we can make Lincoln County one of the healthiest counties in Maine.