Thursday, July 23, 2009

Day 3: Change is Hard, but our CHRISTUS Family Does it Well (written by Abby Lowe)

Once again today, we met with journalists, legislators, regulators and policy experts to tell the CHRISTUS story. We also got a chance to meet with a representative from the Mexican Embassy, which allowed us some time to fill him in on our operations in our CHRISTUS Muguerza region.

It seemed like we spent a little longer sitting down with folks today so we could really focus on building relationships. After all, Dr. Royer is here not only to tell the story of the CHRISTUS family, but also to make it clear that CHRISTUS has a different focus than many other health systems, is forward-looking, and would like to help with health reform or any other issue that they might want information, education or resources on.

One thing that struck me as I sat in these meetings was an overwhelming sense of pride in CHRISTUS and the work done by CHRISTUS Associates every day. Dr. Royer, Peter Maddox and Patti Harper have spent time telling our story to all sorts of groups, including the head of FEMA, the LA Times, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and even Mark McClellan (who served both as FDA Commissioner and head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services).

They continue to focus on the unique things CHRISTUS Associates are doing across our diverse system. They talk about our futures planning (especially Futures Task Force I and II), and how those learnings have changed our system. They talk about our experiences with hurricanes, the great sacrifices of our Associates to care for patients and each other in affected regions and what can be done better in the future. They talk about the fact that we’re not building more inpatient beds, and even about the CHRISTUS Stehlin Foundation for Cancer Research in Houston, which we believe has made some advances that will revolutionize cancer care in the next 10 years.

I wish everyone could see the faces of the folks Dr. Royer meets with as he tells many parts of the CHRISTUS story.

They are surprised. They are impressed. They have lots of questions about what we’re doing.

They’re stunned to hear that we don’t agree with the American Hospital Association (AHA) and even our state hospital associations on every point of health care reform. We have been honest about the fact that we’ll need to make some concessions if reform is to pass. We won’t give away the whole shootin’ match—obviously, we must remain financially viable to continue to serve the members of our community—but CHRISTUS is not willing to let perfect be the enemy of good.

We’ve heard that we will see some kind of reform legislation this year, but it might not be as sweeping as the changes being considered now. And I’m sure many of you heard today that these reform discussions will not be done by Congress’ August recess.

But we’ll also be in touch with representatives while they are at home over this break. It will be another great chance to explain what we’ve been saying about health care reform: it’s necessary, it’s urgent, and it must be done correctly now.

Dr. Royer often reiterates the fact that most of the excess cost in health care is from overuse and misuse, not under-use by uninsured populations. (If you’re really interested in this topic, I’d suggest you read an article written for the New Yorker about McAllen, Texas. You can access it here. It’s a lengthy write-up, but it really clarified the health care reform discussions for me.)

It’s become clearer to me that people are people, wherever they live and whatever they do. These health care reform discussions may seem scary for many Americans who are concerned about cost containment. They are scary for those who have insurance that they like. And they are scary for many health care providers, who are worried about what these changes will mean for them.

That’s understandable. And it’s one of the reasons that Dr. Royer is here telling your story, explaining about the progress that the members of the CHRISTUS family have made in our 4 directions on our Journey to Excellence. These improvements prove that high quality care can be provided at a low cost, one of the main focuses of health care reform.

Change is hard, and almost no one likes it. In many ways, the known evil seems less threatening than the unknown. But in this case, the known evil is 46 million Americans without adequate access to care, rampant overuse and costs in the provision of care all across the country, reimbursement that doesn’t make sense (and should fairly include preventive care) and no end in sight to these issues.

Now’s the time, so we continue with meetings tomorrow. Once again, we’ll keep you in the loop. ~Abby

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