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Hospital board endorses strategic plan and priorities for 2011

WILLMAR -- Cardiology and nephrology will be two of the focus areas as Rice Memorial Hospital seeks to strengthen and expand some of its services this year.

Recruitment of more physicians also is a goal, along with a lengthy to-do list that includes quality of care, patient satisfaction, financial performance and staff development.

The board of directors for the city-owned hospital endorsed the hospital's work plan for 2011 this past week, setting in motion the second year of a five-year strategic plan to further develop Rice's position as a regional hospital.

"Our administrative team has spent a lot of time and done a lot of work, along with our department heads," said Mike Schramm, chief executive.

Hospital leaders also have been working closely with leaders at Affiliated Community Medical Centers and Family Practice Medical Center to ensure a shared vision and foster mutual growth for the hospital and the medical groups.

Although the five-year strategic plan is both detailed and ambitious, most of the goals for the first year have already been achieved.

Among the steps accomplished in 2010:

- Establishment of a service line planning group consisting of representatives from Rice Hospital, ACMC and Family Practice Medical Center.

- Development of a three-year plan for enhancing local cardiology services.

- Successful recruitment of an orthopedic surgeon, a medical oncologist and an emergency room physician. The two local medical groups also have brought in three more primary care doctors over and above the existing number.

- Enhancement of the hospitalist program, which now has four physicians overseeing the care of patients who are hospitalized.

- Development of a formal policy outlining how Rice Hospital will assist the local clinics in recruiting physicians.

- Evaluation of long-term care services at the Rice Care Center and a subsequent decision by the board to move ahead with a building project. Ground was broken in November for a 23-bed addition to the Rice Care Center that will house short-term therapy clients.

The list of goals for this year is equally ambitious.

Over the next month or two, the service line planning group will refine and implement the first stage of its plan to enhance local cardiology services, Schramm said.

The group also will tackle the future growth and direction of nephrology, or kidney health, services and dialysis, he said.

"We're really starting to dive into that. There's a lot of work on both fronts going on," he said. "I think we've got a lot of room for improvement and enhancement of services going forward."

Orthopedic surgery will remain a focus as well.

Although ACMC was successful in bringing a new orthopedic surgeon on board a year ago, there's significant local demand for more, Schramm said.

"We know we have a need for certainly three, if not four, full-time orthopedists," he said.

The five-year strategic plan also calls for another three to six more primary care doctors, and another medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist for the Willmar Regional Cancer Center.

A strategy on specialty services for the region will be developed this year between Rice and ACMC.

Planning also is under way to more clearly define the scope and services of the hospitalist program. Several studies have showed that when the care of hospitalized patients is overseen by doctors who specialize in hospital medicine, patients often fare better.

Hospital officials believe it's a service that can be marketed in the region. Indeed, Rice recently admitted a handful of patients from outlying communities who were referred to Willmar specifically because of the hospitalist service, Schramm said.

Another important goal for the coming year will be to strengthen the hospital's financial position. Its fiscal performance has stagnated in recent years, leading to multiple rounds of belt-tightening and some staff reductions, mainly through attrition.

Through tight management of everything from staff levels to inventory, hospital leaders are optimistic they've made progress. Financial reports for January and February indicate the hospital is doing better financially than what was budgeted. The aim this year is to meet or exceed a modest 1.1 percent margin of return.

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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