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Rice looks to the future in detailing its new service growth plan

WILLMAR -- Orthopedic surgery, oncology, emergency medicine, hospital medicine and primary care remain among Rice Memorial Hospital's top priorities for strengthening these specialty services and recruiting ph-ysicians to staff them.

But cardiology and ne-phrology also have been fast-tracked onto the short-term priority list, where they'll be studied more closely over the next few months for how they can be enhanced.

All these specialties are part of the city-owned hospital's growth plan, which identifies opportunities for Rice to expand its services or add new ones.

The growth plan was presented Wednesday night to the hospital board of directors.

Many of the goals likely will take months to reach. For instance, the plan calls for eventually having four to five full-time orthopedic surgeons in Willmar, a process that could take at least a few years.

"It's hard for us to lay out any concrete timeline," said Mike Schramm, chief executive of Rice Hospital.

The growth plan offers a roadmap, however, for how the hospital wants to develop its services.

It's one of the first concrete results of a new strategic plan adopted this past December by the hospital board.

Several medical specialties are targeted for enhancement. One is cardiology, which originally was a long-term priority but has since moved up on the list. With a full-time cardiologist from CentraCare in St. Cloud now working in Willmar, Rice is in a good position to start considering how to further develop this service, Schramm said.

"The gist is, can we do some new and different things?" he said.

Nephrology is another specialty that shows promise for becoming a regional specialty, he said.

Also in the plan is the recruitment of emergency-room physicians, six to nine primary care physicians and a third psychiatrist.

For Rice's hospitalist service, the goal is to develop a staffing plan and eventually be able to market the service among the region's physicians who refer their patients to Rice. "The ultimate goal is getting to a 24-7 full-time-staffed hospitalist program," Schramm said.

In the longer-term future, needs in urology, general surgery and interventional radiology will be studied.

A service line planning task force, consisting of representatives of Rice Hospital, Affiliated Community Medical Centers and Family Practice Medical Center, recently held its first meeting. During future meetings, this group will examine each of the hospital's service priorities, identify possible business models and make recommendations to the hospital board.

The establishment of the task force was one of the strategies contained in Rice's new strategic plan. It's seen as an innovative move that not only will thoroughly vet service-related proposals before they reach the hospital board, but also will help ensure the hospital's strategic decisions are aligned with those of the two local medical clinics.

The initial meeting went well, Schramm said. "We made a lot of progress and had a very good meeting and very good dialogue... That committee plays a significant role in directing and ultimately recommending where we go in the future as a hospital."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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