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Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar, Minn., adopts new strategic plan to prepare for future

Officials at Rice Memorial Hospital have developed a new plan for how the city-owned hospital will respond to the changing health care environment over the next few years. Adoption of the plan has received unanimous support from officials and staff. Tribune photo by Dan Burdett

WILLMAR — Leaders and the board of directors at Rice Memorial Hospital have created a new road map for how the city-owned hospital will respond over the next few years to major changes in the health care environment.

The ambitious list of initiatives ranges from cost containment and high-quality patient care to increased collaboration with other local medical providers and a more visible role in community health and wellness.

Hospital board members voted unanimously Wednesday to adopt the strategic plan, which also has been endorsed by the medical staff.

Hospital leaders spent many hours developing the document, said Michael Schramm, Rice Hospital chief executive.

“Not all the answers are in the plan but it gives us a framework,” he said.

Responding and adapting constructively to payment reform, the impact of the Accountable Care Act and ongoing pressures on the health care industry will be critical for Rice Hospital’s future, hospital officials said Wednesday.

“If we don’t collaborate on this, we won’t survive,” said Dr. Ken Flowe, chief medical officer. “We’re not going to be in the current environment for long.”

“We can either sit back and wait for someone else to tell us what the changes will be or we can be proactive,” agreed board member Steve Cederstrom.

The plan outlines a series of initiatives through 2015.

The hospital board also approved a work plan for 2013 that is filled with specifics to be undertaken this year.

Goals for 2013 include continuing to assist the local medical clinics with physician recruitment, further work on the hospital’s cost structure to improve its financial strength, and further work on staff development, quality care and projects aimed at improving the patient experience. The hospital also is undertaking a space planning study this year that will look at overall facility needs.

But this will be a year of design as well for several major initiatives that will start to be implemented next year.

Among them:

- Developing a community and collaborative model that engages both providers and the public in health, wellness and new ways of delivering care.

The plan makes deliberate use of the term “Willmar Medical Community” to reflect this broader, more cooperative approach among local health providers and with the public.

- A greater role for Rice Hospital in promoting community health.

Health care providers are increasingly being asked to become more accountable for the overall health of the populations they serve, Schramm said. “We don’t want to be a place where people just come when they’re sick but a place they come when they’re well too.”

- Working ever more closely with local physicians to engage them in new care delivery models that promote high-quality, efficient and evidence-based care.

- Beginning the transition from volume-based to value-based care.

At some future point, health care providers will stop being paid according to how many patients they treat and will be paid instead according to the quality of the care they provide, the outcomes they achieve and how satisfied patients are with the care they receive. It will be a challenging transition that Rice needs to be ready for, said Bill Fenske, chief financial officer. “We’re not going to get paid more for services. The likelihood is that we’ll get paid less.”

Financially, it means hospitals can no longer focus on how much revenue they generate, Schramm said. “It’s all about how we manage cost.”

- Evaluating hospital services to see how well they meet local and regional needs.

Schramm told the hospital board Wednesday to expect revisions and updates to the strategic plan in upcoming months. “Twelve months is not a lot of time when it comes to these long-range initiatives,” he said.

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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