Hospital maneuvers: UW Medicine soon could include Valley Medical Center

King County’s major medical centers continue jockeying for position in the emerging new health-care world.

U.W. Medicine and Valley Medical Center proposed this week what they call a “strategic alliance.” Valley wants to retain its name, although the news release says Valley would become “part of U.W. Medicine.”

Earlier this year, U.W. Medicine took over running Northwest Hospital (in north Seattle), without actually owning the hospital.

As Dean Radford writes in the Renton Reporter:

Public Hospital District No. 1, which owns [Valley] medical center and neighborhood clinics, would still exist. Its five commissioners would sit on a larger board that would oversee management of Valley Medical. The Valley board would continue to oversee the hospital district itself.

In essence Valley Medical Center would become part of the UW Medicine system, which owns and operates Harborview Medical Center and the University of Washington Medical Center. UW Medicine also shares ownership and governance of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Children’s Hospital and Medical Center and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The bigger picture: U.W. Medicine and Swedish Medical Center are competing to be top-dog in the greater Seattle area. All the other hospitals are nervously watching, trying to decide if they can survive independently, or if they need to affiliate. I alluded to this in an article last spring, as the same pressures are reflected in the mad scramble to build new Emergency Departments all over King County.

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Science stimulus

After a month investigating, or at least poking around on, the topic of stimulus money coming to the greater Seattle area, I had trouble finding any great stories.

Yes, as I reported on KPLU, there’s money to clean-up diesel pollution around the ports.  And, there’s a decent chunk of funding for Community Health Centers (which serve low-income and uninsured people).  And, as Sandy Doughton reported, faculty at the U.W. will get plenty of additional NIH research funding.

But, I was looking for the big legacy projects, something akin to the fine parks structures built by FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.  As I said in my clinics story, the federal stimulus money is “more of a cushion to soften the crash,” than a spark to create something new.

Maybe the U.W. will build a great new science lab that was only a pipe dream before.

Other beat reporters at KPLU have found similar tales when it comes to stimulus money and public housing, and public schools.  In order to get the money spent quickly, it is paying for projects that were already planned and would have happened anyway, eventually.  The stimulus makes them happen more quickly.  Or else, instead of creating jobs, it’s preserving work that would have been eliminated by budget cuts elsewhere.

I’m not saying it’s bad to preserve jobs from the chopping block, or speed up a construction schedule.  It just makes it hard a decade from now to point to something and say, That’s the legacy of what the federal government did during the Great Recession.

Stimulus money may rescue researchers, clinics

I’m digging for details on where federal stimulus money may end up, in the realms of health care and science, here in the Seattle area.   So far, still more questions than answers.  But, here are two examples:

– Community medical clinics.  There is money set aside to help these clinics survive the double-whammy of more people in need of free or subsidized coverage, while budgets are being slashed.   Tom Trompeter, the CEO for the HealthPoint clinics in King County says he expects some of the money will be for expanding services, to reach new clients.  He’s also hopeful that funding for Medicaid will increase, which would be the simplest way to support these clinics.

– Bio-medical researchers.  A big boost in funding went to the National Institutes of Health ($10.4 billion total), and the U.W. is one of the leading recipients of NIH grants.  One scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center said last week she was already re-formulating some proposals that had missed the funding cut last time around.  One chunk of the NIH money will be spent on construction — new labs and equipment.

There are a lot of new deadlines for proposals.  Some research funding cutoffs are as soon as June, while the construction grant proposals are due by September.

If you’ve heard of stimulus money flowing to any local institutes or organizations, please share.

Will health solutions equal healthy profits?

If you happen to live in a Presidential battleground state, such as Ohio, Pennsylvania or Florida, you might have heard Sen. McCain talking effusively on the stump about how to revolutionize health-care — using information technology. Sen. Obama has sounded pretty similar.

It’s not an obvious campaign pitch, at least at first. Those of us here in the Pacific Northwest have missed most of this discussion. I got interested when I saw how lucrative it might be.

Electronic health records have been a priority within the health care industry for a while. Getting rid of all those paper files is supposed to lead to fewer medical mistakes and a more efficient system. If you walk into an emergency room (or a clinic you’ve never visited), the doctor or nurse could call-up your medical history, including medications and allergies, and not rely on anyone’s memory.

Reformers who love electronic records envision a day when patients are “empowered” by having access to all their records. Personally, I like the idea of having access to and control of my records. And it definitely sounds more efficient. But once you’ve got a long medical rap sheet, couldn’t it still be too much information for the doctor to scroll through? Especially for your 10-minute appointment?

You can run a full-day seminar on all the lingering privacy issues.

It’s also a big expense on the horizon. I stopped by a conference in Seattle, of health information specialists (a group called AHIMA), and I learned that only about 15-17% of hospitals and medical practices have invested in the computer technology upgrades. Wow – more than 80% still have to buy new computers and servers and a bunch of software, to make the conversion. No wonder software and computer companies are excited. Even Microsoft is getting into the act, with a new division called the Health Services Group.