Investing in Health Care

by Jennifer Lesser | Sep 26, 2019
Investing in Health Care

South Jersey’s health care industry is growing rapidly with local networks investing in new facilities and providing more quality patient care, all while keeping up with the challenges it faces on a regular basis.

One of South Jersey’s most significant economic drivers, the health care industry, has been faced with an array of challenges in recent years, from the pressure to keep up with rapidly changing technology to consumerism and reimbursement issues. But from investing in new facilities to launching community-based health initiatives, the region’s health care networks are continuing to transform the way they do business while also doing their part to help state residents stay healthy.

Health Care Building Boom
One of the ways South Jersey hospitals are keeping up with demand for services is by expanding their facilities. Cathy Bennett, president and CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association (NJHA), notes just a few of the recent projects rising from the South Jersey landscape include Inspira Health’s new hospital in Mullica Hill, Virtua’s health campus in Westampton and a new patient tower and pavilion at Jefferson Health New Jersey.

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“South Jersey has been at the center of a health care building boom, and it demonstrates the importance of our field not only in taking care of the health of New Jerseyans, but also in supporting jobs and economic development in our communities,” she says.

In addition to a new hospital, Inspira is in the process of building a 117,000-square-foot cancer center, two outpatient centers, and like many of the region’s hospitals, it continues to invest in ambulatory sites to help make health care more accessible in response to patients’ growing desire for convenience. “Those ambulatory sites are where we see the most opportunities for growth—our goal is to make life as easy as possible for the people we serve in our communities,” says John DiAngelo, president and CEO of Inspira Health.

Over the past decade, Cooper University has invested more than $460 million in its facilities, with more than 600,000 square feet in the Cooper Health Sciences Campus, including the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University and the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper. Construction is currently underway for a 95,454-square-foot, multi-specialty ambulatory center in Cherry Hill, slated for opening in late spring 2020.

“There will continue to be a move from inpatient care to outpatient care for many health care services. Conveniently located primary care services will always be in high demand,” says Dr. Anthony J. Mazzarelli, co-president/CEO of Cooper University Health Care.

Job Creation and Economic Impact
According to Bennett, South Jersey hospitals from Burlington to Cape May counties are responsible for nearly 25,000 jobs and $4.75 billion in total economic value that ripples across the region, not including thousands of additional jobs and economic impact from other health care facilities such as nursing homes, assisted living, home health, hospice and medical day care centers. “State and federal labor statistics show that health care is probably the most reliable and stable sector in terms of providing jobs,” she adds.

In order to continue expanding upon that economic impact, several of the region’s major hospital networks have teamed up, whether in the form of partnerships such as Cooper and Inspira Health’s Cardiac Partners—a joint venture that has become the largest cardiac program in South Jersey—an NFL Alumni (NFLA) partnership with Deborah Heart and Lung Center to provide cutting-edge cardiac, vascular and pulmonary care to NFLA members, or Inspira’s residency program with Rowan University that’s helping to cultivate the skilled workforce the industry needs. And then there are the mergers, with one of the most recent being Virtua’s acquisition of Lourdes Health System this July.

“We were two complementary health systems that came together to offer an expanded portfolio of services. Now there’s nothing that we can’t do inside our system, and local residents will never feel like they have to cross a bridge for health care services ever again,” says Virtua COO Dr. John Matsinger.

Keeping Up With Technology

For local hospitals, another key component of doing business has been keeping up with the rapid changes in technology, such as advancements in robotic surgery, as well as the pressure to bring patients the latest and greatest treatment options while improving the way they access and receive health services, from wearable devices to telehealth platforms that connect patients with providers 24/7.

According to Joseph W. Devine, president at Jefferson Health New Jersey, the hospital continually invests in technological advancements, from updated MRI machines and surgical equipment to its new electronic medical records system that provides patients with access to their records in an app format. “Technology is constantly requiring upgrades—health care is a huge economic driver in our region, and technology is a major catalyst of that,” Devine adds.

Technology has also driven the region’s health care networks to provide enhanced access to resources, both to consumers as well as providers. Salem Medical Center recently partnered with Cooper University Hospital to provide the community with tele-stroke and tele-neurology services for acute stroke patient evaluation, which provides its physicians with 24/7 access to Cooper neurologists.

“Changing health care technology is both a blessing and a challenge,” asserts Dr. Tammy Torres, CEO of Salem Medical Center. “It’s exciting to see pioneering advancements and new medical technology developed to combat our most difficult health issues; however, it’s challenging for hospitals to continually upgrade technology that can sometimes be obsolete in a few years.”

As an academic teaching hospital, Cooper University Health Care has also remained committed to providing the most technologically advanced care. “Technology allows us to provide better access to care, improved efficiency and access to new diagnostic tools, treatments and a myriad of minimally invasive procedures that often result in less pain and quicker healing,” Mazzarelli says. “It also allows us to provide remote consultations with other doctors and hospitals, and help create better continuity of care with the use of electronic medical records.”

In addition to the need to stay on top of the rapidly changing technology, Ronald Saltiel, COO at Relievus, notes that social media has also paved the way for significant changes in the way health care organizations do business. “Because of social media, patients are always shopping around and they’re more in control of their health care solutions than ever before,” he explains. That’s why the organization constantly surveys patients and referring physicians for feedback. “At the end of the day, like any business, it’s all about customer focus,” he says.

Meeting Community Needs 
Looking ahead, it seems the state’s health care institutions are also responding to a shift toward population health. For hospitals, that has meant forging a newfound commitment to keeping people healthy and educating them on how to prevent a visit to one of their facilities. “I think it’s one of health care’s greatest challenges, but also one of its greatest opportunities,” Bennett asserts. “It demands that we look at health holistically, including the social determinants of health like housing, transportation, food access and education.”

She notes that some examples of local health systems enhancing their presence in the neighborhood are programs such as Cooper’s innovative school-based health clinic, Deborah Heart and Lung Center’s summer youth program, Cape Regional’s wellness alliance with other local agencies and Shore Medical Center’s support services offered through its Center for Family Caregivers.

“We’re trying to identify the root causes of health care issues, and then working with our communities to try to fix them,” DiAngelo says, noting that Inspira is one of the founding members of the M25 Initiative‘s Cumberland County Housing First Collaborative to combat homelessness. The health care network is also expanding educational services into local school districts, such as by providing crockpots to help busy families eat healthier.

Virtua has also launched initiatives to address population health issues such as nutrition; in partnership with Whole Foods Market, Virtua recently implemented a mobile farmers market to provide fruit and vegetables to local residents at a significantly reduced cost. The Virtua Mobile Farmers Market has distributed 51,872 pounds of produce thus far in 2019, and has served approximately 8,400 individuals.

“It’s been nothing short of amazing—the food goes out into specific areas of Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties on a schedule, and we also provide access to a dietician to help educate people on how to use the produce to prepare healthy meals for their families,” Matsinger says. “Even though we’re the Garden State, we truly do have food deserts in some of our communities.”

Virtua is also ramping up screenings, classes and other services, like flu shots, at convenient access points within the communities it serves. “What you’re seeing in medicine right now is a time of great change—we’re still a hospital and we’re still there when people need us, but with 250 locations in our system, our focus is now about getting out into the community and providing local residents with what they need and how they want to receive it, no matter where they are in their journey of life,” Matsinger says. “We have a responsibility to educate people on how to be healthier—we don’t want to see people when they’re ill, we want to teach them how to prevent illness in the first place.”

Torres notes that another major area of focus has been behavioral health services for the county and surrounding areas. Salem Medical Center opened a redesigned medical-surgical unit to focus on patients with a secondary diagnosis of substance abuse; in addition to newly designed patient care rooms, the center has also started construction on a 26-bed psychiatric unit. “The need for behavioral health services in our community, not only inpatient but outpatient and ongoing support, is a critical community need,” she says.

The Challenge of Cost
The region’s health care systems are also working on tackling what is quite possibly the industry’s greatest ongoing challenge. Kevin O’Dowd, co-president/CEO of Cooper University Health Care, explains that the overriding issue in health care continues to be increasing costs. “Our strategy is to remain the lowest-cost academic tertiary care health system in the region,” he says. “We will continue to seek ways to work with local physicians and health systems to affordably treat their critically ill and injured patients.”

Relievus is currently in a pilot program with Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield of New Jersey to provide treatment for chronic, low-back pain at reduced cost, while Salem Medical Center has returned to nonprofit status and is providing health care services to residents, including those unable to pay. Joseph Chirichella, president and CEO of Deborah Heart and Lung Center, explains that the center has historically only billed insurance companies and will never bill patients for what insurance doesn’t cover. “Our greatest fear is that people are sitting at home with symptoms and afraid to seek treatment for fear of what it’s going to cost … because these surprise bills that patients receive and the lack of transparency over what things cost is an ongoing problem,” he says.

Bennett notes that in addition to rising costs for consumers, providers are often also struggling for adequate reimbursement thanks to changes in technology and the ways patients receive services, such as the care and expertise that physicians are delivering during telehealth appointments.

“It’s a sea change for health care, and it’s one that we fully embrace. … But the challenge is that our payment and reimbursement system is still based in the old world. Payment policies and regulations aren’t always aligned with what we’re trying to achieve in health care today,” she concludes. “It’s important that our reimbursement catches up to the innovation underway in our health care facilities and in our communities to create a social infrastructure for good health.”
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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 9, Issue 9 (September 2019).

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Author: Jennifer Lesser


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