Friday, November 6, 2015

Niagara Falls Memorial: An ally in the fight against high healthcare costs

A couple of weeks back in this column I lamented the ever-rising cost of health insurance and the impact that it has on my company, my coworkers and my clients. The good people at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center (NFMMC) read that column and invited me and my coworker to the Center to have a personal tour and discussion with CEO Joe Ruffolo and his team about what they could do to mitigate our costs and what they have been doing to address that with the community at large.

They’ve developed numerous programs and practices, ranging from Bridging the Inpatient Process (BIP) to satellite doctor’s offices to their Health Home endeavor to a re-education of their customer base that encourages smarter use of the emergency department. By doing so, in just the past few years alone they’ve saved Niagara area residents and businesses over $6 million.  

That is a princely sum of money that most hospitals would see as lost revenues and would do their darnedest to retain. Those CEOs and boards are driven solely by revenues, which is a determinant to a given community as it impedes economic development in other sectors.

So, one might consider NFMMC’s approach to business atypical to the health industry. NFMMC leadership keenly sees the impact that such money-grabbing behaviors have and they know that such a model is dangerous in a city like Niagara Falls that is still recovering from the decades-long exodus of employers and citizens. By containing a cost of doing business, a cost of living, they know that they can aid in local recovery…by helping guys like you and me.

If you remember my recent column, you know I expounded upon the overuse of ERs that my coworkers and their families tend to take part in. Our insured had more than 60-plus visits to the ER and only 3 were actual emergencies. While many hospitals see ERs as cash cows, NFMMC would rather their clients not use them. When handling cases, they educate the patient then help to assign them to other physicians and services, while discouraging future trips to the ER. That has led to a 6% year-to-year decrease in the number of ER visits to NFMMC.

Ruffolo and his team make that work by having recently launched primary care services in the region. Now, NFMMC maintains and staffs 7 satellite centers throughout the area in places like North Tonawanda, Wheatfield, and Grand Island. Each center is manned by a handful of physicians who are often joined by specialists who consult with the afflicted. This is a benefit I plan to capitalize on -- I have 37 insured families at the plant who don’t have a primary physician, which likely accounts for them always leaning on ERs (this is not unique to Confer Plastics: I was told that 30 percent of the workers at one of the largest employers in the region don’t have doctors). Now, that employer and I can conveniently direct them to facilities just minutes away from our businesses.

Adding to that, their Health Home program (which serves all of the county) employs hundreds of support employees who directly interact with high-risk patients and anyone who has 2 or more diseases which, in WNY, is a majority of the population (consider that one person might have any multiples of diabetes, high-blood pressure, depression, arthritis, and back problems to name a few). The Health Home workers help manage their care, guarantee follow-up and ensure the best long-term results.

Please don’t think that all of these cost-cutting exercises mean substandard facilities or people. There’s also a stigma out there that NFMMC is an “inner city hospital.” Throughout the entire tour I was absolutely floored by what I saw. The new NFMMC is not that of past generations. Every floor, every department was modernized and comfortable (not depressing or sterile-feeling) with the very best in equipment and world-class specialists and support staff. There are new areas such as cardiac care, hospice care, and a Community Health Center under creation. They’ve also done wonders with a mental wellness floor that de-stigmatizes such ailing and treats people like human beings.

I was left feeling that NFMMC is a true jewel for the entire region and something locals should be proud of and utilize. I encourage my fellow employers to reach out to them for more information and soon: It’s open enrollment season and now is the best time to educate your coworkers about making smart healthcare decisions with a wise partner like NFMMC.

From the 09 November 2015 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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