Hospital Reps present to Chamber


Reprinted from Ketchikan Daily News
by Tom Miller, Staff Writer

For the second time in a week,Ketchikan Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Pat Branco shared an audience Wednesday with fellow hospital employees to discuss proposed expansion plans and the health care industry’s impact in Alaska and Ketchikan.

PeaceHealth — which operates Ketchikan’s city-owned hospital and others in the Pacific Northwest — hopes to raise $75 million from any mix of local, state and federal sources to build a new, three-story wing and to remodel and enhance some existing spaces.

Last week, Branco, along with Penny Pedersen, executive director of the Ketchikan Medical Center Foundation; Dr. Peter Rice, medical director of the PeaceHealth Medical Group, representing the Southeast Alaska region; and Dan Jardine, an architect working on the expansion plan, spoke to about 20 AARP members at The Plaza mall.

On Wednesday, the same group, minus Jardine but including Ketchikan Medical Center Vice President Barbara Bigelow, spoke at the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Branco talked about trends in the health industry, including the growing number of aging baby boomers who are requiring more health care, and the need for additional doctors to serve that need. In Ketchikan, those doctors will require more space and modern facilities that address changes in how care is delivered, Branco said.

Health care is changing, Branco said. One of the most important trends is the transition from in-patient to outpatient care, he said. Going into the hospital and remaining there until cured is becoming an old concept, Branco said.

“When you went in for pneumonia long ago, you were in the hospital for three or four weeks, and you stayed there,” Branco said. “If you had a baby, you were there for, typically, four or five or six days.”

The trend is continuing toward more and more out-patient care, he said. “The more that can be delivered outside the hospital, the better — and less expensive,” Branco said.

People are demanding “high quality, low cost and immediate access,” he said. Meanwhile, he said, “every federal program has, as their target, the need to reduce payments.”

That means less money to hospitals, and reduced ability to provide service, “unless we get smarter,” Branco said. The trend is for payment to be based on the quality of results, he said. More technology will increase access to care, Branco said, giving an example of a dermatologist examining a patient via long-distance video connection.

A patient in Ketchikan could have a “clinical visit” with a doctor in Chicago or Seattle, who could visit with the patient and prescribe medicine, he said. “It’s a much cheaper approach to medicine and an enabling technology,” Branco said.

Pedersen said the planned addition is intended to address three issues at Ketchikan Medical Center: To reduce the time it takes to get an appointment with a doctor; to modernize the nearly 50-year-old surgical care areas of the hospital, and add office and clinic space for more doctors; and to add parking.

Pedersen showed an enlarged photograph of the existing operating room, built, she said, in 1963. It appeared to be cluttered with equipment and crowded with people. She compared the photo to an image of a modern, spacious surgical room.

"In order for us to recruit and retain the physicians that we need in our community, we’re going to need to upgrade from 1963,” Pedersen said.

Pedersen said health care is a $7.2 billion industry in Alaska. It’s a very stable, non-seasonal industry and employs 31,800 people all over the state, who earn more than $1.5 billion a year, she said. In Ketchikan, 450 people work in the industry, earning $28 million a year, Pedersen said.

Health care is not just a service,” Pedersen said. “It is a foundational, economic industry” for Ketchikan and the Southeast region.

Rice talked about recent efforts to improve access to doctors and reduce referrals to the emergency room for non-emergency situations.

The proposed construction will help increase patients’ access to doctors and to the appropriate level of care, Branco said.
“When this is built, the physical space constraints will be eased,” Branco said. “Many more patients can get through the clinic, have access the same day, get these routine needs met.”

"It’s kind of like make-or-break time for this community,” Rice said following the luncheon.

Recruiting the needed number of talented doctors, and retaining them, will be difficult without adequate and modern spaces for them to work in, he said. It’s not an issue that can be put off for years or decades, he said. “We have to be brave and figure out how to fund it,” Rice said.

The three most obvious sources for hospital funds are the federal, state and the City of Ketchikan governments, according to Branco and Pedersen. The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Monday will consider a resolution urging the federal government to provide $30 million for the expansion project.

CEO Patrick Branco compares the hospital's existing operating room to a modern one.