Baptist Health System Transforms Itself

Part 2 of 2: Baptist Health System Looks to the Future)

Once the largest healthcare system in the state, Baptist Health System (BHS) of Alabama has slimmed down over the last several years (as we detailed in Part 1 in last month’s issue). While no longer the largest, BHS is still one of the largest health systems in Alabama. Today’s Baptist is a more focused hospital system, serving the greater Birmingham community and surrounding counties.

BHS still faces a number of challenges, but CEO Shane Spees, who took the reins early this year, is upbeat, saying BHS plans to establish itself as “the highest-quality provider in the market.”

BHS today owns four hospitals: Citizens Baptist Medical Center in Talladega, Walker Baptist in Walker County, Princeton Baptist in Birmingham, and Shelby Baptist in Shelby County. Also part of the system, but not owned outright, is Trinity Hospital, formerly Montclair Baptist. Two years ago, BHS formed a joint venture with Triad, retaining 35 percent ownership of Montclair. Earlier this year, Franklin, Tenn.-based Community Health Systems bought Triad and sees Trinity as its premier hospital in the region (see sidebar).

The system’s flagship hospital is perhaps Princeton. Over the past six years, BHS has invested almost $73 million in capital-related improvements on the campus, and it plans to invest several million more in the current fiscal year. Responding to rumors about a possible move of Princeton to Hoover, Spees said, “We don’t intend to move away from $73 million in investments anytime soon.” In the works for Princeton, he says, are new equipment and new technology, facility renovations, and a master site plan that would include expansion opportunities.

Shelby Baptist is also in a position for growth, as it serves a growing population in Shelby County. The hospital opened a new, expanded cardiology suite early this year, and minimally invasive cardiology procedures are a growing specialty there. The ER is the second busiest in the Birmingham area.

Citizens Baptist recently added digital mammography, more typically found only in urban areas.

One challenge for BHS is Walker Baptist, which is struggling financially. According to Spees, 28 percent of the hospital’s emergency room volume is made up of uninsured patients. The $5 million in bad debt from those patients, combined with $5.2 million in charity care for the last fiscal year, is a heavy load for the hospital to carry. Despite the fact that Walker Baptist is one of the most efficiently run hospitals in the state, Spees says, it had an operating loss of just over $7 million for its last fiscal year, which ended June 30.

“Any business would struggle carrying $10.2 million in free service,” he said. “The interesting thing is, Walker provides some of the highest quality medical care in the state of Alabama, if you take a look at measures that compare hospital organizations. It has received numerous awards for its level of quality.”

BHS is trying to educate Walker County residents about the quality of their hospital, hoping those who are able to pay will go to Walker instead of driving to Birmingham. In addition, BHS has been working with Walker County officials and with the local delegation to the state legislature to develop some solutions. “We’re trying to emphasize the point that we want to be part of economic development” in the area, Spees said, “but we need some assistance to sustain our long-term viability as an organization up there.”

Spees believes BHS can help overcome these and other challenges, such as ever-changing Medicare regulations, through a three-fold approach to the future:
1. Provide the highest quality level of medicine. BHS’s goal is to perform in the top 10 percent on Medicare’s Core Measures, which track a number of evidence-based, scientifically researched standards of care that have been shown to result in improved clinical outcomes.
2. Be the most efficient providers of healthcare. BHS’s goal is to be in the top 25 percent in the country in operating efficiency, as measured by Solucient, a national quality benchmarking firm.
3. Renewing Baptist Health System’s commitment to its faith-based mission. It has started a public advertising campaign to remind people that faith is an important part of BHS’s mission and values. The organization also is working internally to ensure that those values are carried out at every level.

“We’re going through a process with our management and employee groups, helping us translate the values we have as an organization into everyday values we can follow as employees,” Spees said, “and to us, that will translate into even better service. Because at the end of the day we want our patients, our visitors and our medical staff members to feel that commitment we have to our faith-based mission.”

November 2007

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