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Summit Pacific Medical Center sees massive growth in first year

Some months back, Karen Zimmerman said she was having trouble breathing. The entire world was like a moment in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.” It was “topsy turvy everywhere,” she says. Husband John called 911.

“Take me to Summit Pacific Medical Center,” Zimmerman remembers telling the paramedic. “I don’t want to go anywhere else.”

“She was serious,” John said. “This is the only place we would go.”

Zimmerman said that was the first positive experience among many at the new hospital, which celebrated its first birthday on Tuesday. She relayed how Dr. William Hurley, the hospital’s chief medical officer, diagnosed her and treated her “like a real person, not a number.” She has seen him repeatedly ever since. She talked at length about the quiet waiting rooms, how quickly a nurse came out to see her during a couple visits to the emergency room.

“I remember just wheezing,” Zimmerman told Summit Pacific Medical Center CEO Renee Jensen, who sat across a table from her on Tuesday. Zimmerman wears an oxygen tube in her nose now that she travels with regularly.

“Dr. Hurley saved my life. This hospital saved my life.”

It was about all Zimmerman could do from crying, clutching her husband’s hand.

After, Jensen smiled.

“We hear the complaints,” she said. “That’s what gets to us. … We really don’t get to hear the stories like this.”

This week will be all about the positive messages of change the hospital has brought on East County, celebrating two-hour blocks of time from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Friday with patients, employees and community members mingling together over some free food. They’d offer tours, marketing director Lauren Day noted, but the hospital is still functioning and nobody wants to disturb the patients.

Summit Pacific Medical Center opened the doors for the first time on Feb. 17 — the same day that the old Mark Reed Hospital in McCleary closed its doors. It’s been uphill ever since with stunning usage numbers, dwarfing even the best years of Mark Reed.

There are more people using the X-Ray machines, more people getting CAT scans, more people using the emergency room and more people being admitted to the hospital’s beds than ever before.

Jensen says she expects the numbers to be even higher this year, noting that the first-year jitters took some time to be worked out, but her administration team and employees are now doing their jobs faster and bettter than ever.

In calendar year 2013, after the expenses and revenues are matched up, the hospital made $956,609. Although, technically, the hospital lost money because the accountants take into account the depreciation of the new hospital’s value and the fact all of that fancy, new equipment inside of it is all one-year-old now. On paper, the hospital actually lost $108,076. And Jensen points out those losses will continue over the next two years because of the depreciation and amoritization expense.

Still, that doesn’t stop Jensen from being all smiles.

“I am so, so proud of my team,” Jensen said. “And this community has embraced this hospital and made us part of it.”

EMERGENCY VISITS

It’s not just the Elma and McCleary communities that have embraced the hospital, but anecdotal evidence shows residents as far away as Ocean Shores and Olympia have driven past other hospitals to go to the new Summit Pacific Medical Center to get care for their sprained foot or broken hand. Jensen says that the hospital doesn’t have hard data on how many residents from Montesano and the surrounding community are using Summit Pacific, ” but I have a hunch it’s a lot.”

In 2012, Mark Reed Hospital saw 5,617 emergency room visits and admitted 107 patients from the emergency department. Last year, the hospital district saw 8,517 emergency patients with 230 patients admitted from the emergency department. Those figures are for the last two months of Mark Reed combined with the first 10 months of Summit Pacific. Jensen expects the numbers to be even higher this year with a full year of numbers to look at Summit Pacific.

In-patient numbers have skyrocketed from 402 in 2012 at Mark Reed to 1,064, thanks to the new hospital.

Lab use has gone from 46,783 tests to 58,112 tests and X-ray exams went from 4,718 to 5,849.

The numbers show patients are using Summit Pacific much more than Mark Reed. They’re staying longer and getting the help they need more in Elma.

The hospital still can’t handle some issues, such as heart attacks. But hospital staff can stabilize a patient and get him or her ready to helicopter transport using the hospital’s helipad.

In previous years, many paramedics in East County would stabilize patients and then drive them via ambulance to Olympia. It’s much more common now to see ambulances utilize the services of Summit Pacific Medical Center.

“For us, Mark Reed was one of our primary places to take patients in conjunction with the Olympia hospitals based on the severity,” Fire District 5 Chief Dan Prater said on Tuesday. “But they didn’t always have room for us so we used to get diverted a lot. They are accepting a lot more patients than they used to.”

Chief Prater says he’s heard Fire District 2 and Montesano Fire are also transporting more patients to Summit Pacific.

“Time is life,” Prater said. “We know that and it’s a term that we use.”

QUALITY CARE

More people doesn’t mean a sacrifice in quality, either.

Hospital Acquired Infections at Summit Pacific continued to be zero the entire year and the lab work is coming in quicker, the statistics show.

The average wait time in the hospital’s emergency department has increased — but only slightly. In 2012, the average wait time from door to the physician was 21 and a half minutes at Mark Reed. Over the 11 months Summit Pacific was open last year, the average wait time was about 30 minutes — but the time has been steadily dropping over the months from a high of 36 minutes in February of 2013 to 31 minutes in December of last year. But even debating a few minutes compares to average wait times in other hospitals in excess of an hour to two hours. The goal is to see the patient and get him or her the services they need within two hours, a goal often met last year, the numbers show.

The public hospital district took in about $38.6 million in revenue last year because of the surge in patients and services. That compares to $24.8 million the year before.

Of course, with more patients, it also increases the chances that patients won’t be able to pay their bills. Last year, the hospital’s “bad debt,” which Jensen explains is debt the patients don’t pay to the hospital, rose to $3.2 million. That’s up from $1.3 million in the Mark Reed days.

Community Care, where the hospital writes off the debt after patients apply for low income assistance, rose from $947,249 in 2012 to $1.1 million.

“That means we gave more than $4 million in medical services to our community for free,” Jensen said. “That shows there’s been a need for this hospital and that we’re serving low income people that had nowhere else to get their medical treatment.”

MORE SERVICES

The increase in services meant a couple dozen more employees at the new hospital. The hospital was able to accelerate the hiring of a new nurse practitioner after Olympia-based Capital Medical Center abruptly closed The Clinic at Elma last May. There’s been more use at the hospital’s clinic in McCleary and its two clinics in Elma. Jensen says she’s also actively been recruiting for a new doctor for the hospital.

“That is such a huge challenge for us,” Jensen said. “For months, we thought we had found a doctor willing to come to our hospital, but her husband took a job in the Puget Sound and the commute was just too much for her.”

Jensen says the hospital has looked into forming affiliations with much larger hospitals in an effort to save money and increase recruitment opportunities. As a comparison, Grays Harbor Community Hospital formed an affiliation with the much larger MultiCare Health System to increase medical services. Jensen says it’s looking more likely that Summit Pacific Medical Center won’t go that route, choosing, instead, to band together with other rural hospitals as part of the Western Washington Rural Health Care Collaborative. Jensen was recently named chairwoman of the collaborative’s board and hired on a full-time executive director for the group, which recently expanded to include 12 hospitals from the area.

“We’re all critical access hospitals, and can negotiate better rates by working together,” Jensen said. “We at Summit Pacific are excited about the future and we see the Collaborative as the key to our strategic success in being the national model for patient centered care.”

By working together with other smaller hospitals, it has the potential to increase services, such as cancer treatment and screening services, Jensen said. Last year, Summit Pacific approved a partnership with Mason General Hospital in Shelton to hire a human resources manager. The position works three days in Shelton and two days in Elma.

“I really think developing these partnerships and working together is our future,” Jensen said.

Besides working on partnership, Jensen said hospital staff continue to work to get better everyday. The annual staff satisfaction survey showed that two-thirds of the hospital staff rate the hospital as the best place they’ve ever worked.

“You can see the pride, confidence and ownership in the staff and community,” Jensen wrote in her annual report given to the hospital commissioners. “The new surroundings have a different feel and have inspired us to dream about the next challenge. The work didn’t stop with the opening of the doors, it actually just kept coming. There were new service lines to implement, volume growth to deal with, large increases in staffing and not to mention the difficult process of trying to discover the new norms. … There is still so much more potential, I look forward to what 2014 will bring us.”

The big question for the hospital district is what to do about the old Mark Reed Hospital. The clinic, which still exists at Mark Reed, expanded a little bit into the old hospital, but much of it remains vacant.

“This is a big issue for us to handle this year,” Jensen said. “There are some ideas — maybe medical offices, but we see it as a potential to help the McCleary community, which we know is struggling.”

Sam Nelson of McCleary retired from the old Mark Reed Hospital after 26 and a half years. He decided to pay the new hospital a visit during its birthday celebration on Tuesday just to take it all in.

“I worked in the X-Ray department,” Nelson said. “And this new facility is just fantastic. I am so proud of this hospital that I wish I could have worked here.”