Betsy Ryan is president and CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association. Her blog, Healthcare Matters, examines the many issues confronting New Jersey's hospitals and their patients. Readers are encouraged to join the discussion, because healthcare matters - to all of us.

Hospitals Provide Lessons in Managing Change

My son is graduating from the 8th grade and will enter high school next fall. It’s a major change in our household, and frankly, he’s handling it much better than I am.  It’s made me think about change in general, and how difficult change can be for people. Now, consider something as complex as our healthcare system. In that scenario, change becomes an enormous challenge.

But here we are nevertheless, with our healthcare system in the midst of historic change. Much of it is driven by the Affordable Care Act, and some of it is driven by the changing demands of consumers and the growing pressures in the healthcare marketplace. Whether you love or loathe the ACA, virtually all economists and healthcare policy experts agree that change was needed to redesign our healthcare system and ensure its sustainability into the future.

In a nutshell, the changes we seek are: Improved quality of care. Healthier communities. Lower healthcare costs. It’s a pretty simple formula, but achieving it is not simple at all.

For those viewing this change from the outside, some of the differences you’ll see are a growing transition from inpatient care in a hospital to more outpatient care (part of the shift to less costly settings.) Or you’ll see hospitals working in cooperation with physician practices to coordinate care and share data regarding patient care (a move toward greater efficiency.) Or – as we’ve experienced a great deal in New Jersey – you’ll see hospitals merging and affiliating with other hospitals. That promotes sharing of resources and services, gives hospitals access to more capital and gives communities greater access to services that may not always be available from a single hospital.

What’s not as visible behind the scenes is the hard work going on within our hospitals and health systems to adjust to these changing times. Taking care of our communities 24/7/365 is difficult enough without these added pressures of monumental change. I am very impressed with the leadership within our hospitals and health systems and the unwavering focus of their staffs. With one eye on the future, they continue the daily responsibility of caring for their patients. For someone struggling with change, I think I can learn something from their excellent example.

Written by Betsy Ryan at 00:00

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N.J. Hospitals Provide Safe Havens for Unwanted Babies and Desperate Parents

There’s a safe alternative for overwhelmed parents who feel like they can’t take care of their newborn. It’s the Safe Haven program, a state-led initiative in which parents can safely surrender a baby at a hospital emergency room or police station.

The state Department of Children and Families recently announced a multi-pronged campaign to promote the Safe Haven program and make struggling parents aware that there are options available.

Under the state's Safe Haven Infant Protection Act, an individual can give up an unwanted baby safely, legally and anonymously as long as the child is unharmed. The law allows parents - or someone acting on their behalf – to legally and anonymously surrender an unwanted infant under 30 days old to any hospital emergency department or police station in New Jersey. Parents will be safe from prosecution if the baby has not been abused.

Sixty-two infants have been safely surrendered since the Safe Haven program was launched in August 2000, according to state officials.

New Jersey's hospital emergency departments are safety nets for the communities they serve. Usually that means providing care to the uninsured or others in need. And sometimes it means providing a safe place for the most vulnerable and peace of mind for desperate parents who feel like they have no other options.

For more information on New Jersey’s Safe Haven program, visit the DCF website at www.njsafehaven.org

Written by Betsy Ryan at 00:00

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National Hospital Week: One Patient's Story

This week is National Hospital Week, and I have a very personal reason to celebrate.  A New Jersey hospital recently saved my life. Back in April, after a weekend of stomach pain that turned from very bad to unbearable, my husband drove me to our local hospital emergency department. I was quickly seen by a triage nurse and sent back immediately to the emergency room for an examination and tests. The diagnosis: a ruptured appendix that had spewed toxins throughout my body. I was rushed to the operating room at 1 a.m. and infused with antibiotics to help my body fight the toxins.

It was an experience you never anticipate ahead of time, but when it came for me and my family, we were so grateful to have quick access to round-the-clock hospital care. My physicians, nurses and patient technicians were terrific caregivers. It took my body a long time to fight back and get healthy -- nearly two weeks, in fact, before I was well enough to be discharged. But my caregivers were there at all hours, monitoring my status, administering medications and explaining to me and my large family what was happening. I was so sick I didn't realize the severity of the situation, but my body began to respond with the help of excellent care and strong meds. I thank all of the healthcare professionals who cared for me -- and all of the dedicated caregivers around the state who help patients like me. These compassionate individuals work just as hard at 3 a.m. as they do at 3 p.m., and on weekends and holidays as well.

This Hospital Week, I urge you to thank someone who works at your local hospital. You never know when you might need them.

Written by Betsy Ryan at 00:00

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For Patient Safety Week, a Salute to Healthcare Workers

March 2-8 is the national observance of Patient Safety Awareness Week, and I want to mark the occasion by thanking New Jersey’s dedicated healthcare professionals for ensuring the safety and well-being of New Jersey’s patients. Healthcare is the state’s second largest source of jobs, so there are many of you out there whose constant dedication and commitment creates an environment of caring and healing.

Here in New Jersey, we have plenty of reasons to celebrate this week: All of New Jersey’s acute care hospitals have joined the national Partnership for Patients effort, which is dedicated to improving patient safety and providing quality healthcare. As part of this initiative, New Jersey hospitals have made great strides in attacking the number of adverse events that can sometimes complicate a hospital stay. They’ve reduced infection rates, pressure ulcers, pneumonia rates, medication errors and complications during labor and delivery. In addition, New Jersey has one of the nation’s largest number of hospitals to receive the coveted “Magnet” designation for nursing excellence.

To New Jersey’s healthcare professionals: You should take great pride in the work you do each day, providing high quality, compassionate patient care to those in need.

This year’s Patient Safety Awareness Week theme is Navigate Your Health…Safely, reminding us all that providing safe patient care requires our commitment 365 days a year. And patients are an important part of that equation. We encourage you to be engaged in your healthcare: Be active, ask questions, keep notes. It’s all part of the very important partnership between providers and the people they serve.

Written by Betsy Ryan at 00:00

Being Blogged

I must confess that blogging about healthcare issues (and occasionally other things) can be fun. But nothing beats having the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services blogging about something good your own organization is doing. This past Tuesday (in between snowstorms) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius visited Jersey City and met with Mayor Steve Fulop and a Navy veteran named Hilda De’Mello, who NJHA recently hired and trained as a certified application counselor to assist people in enrolling for health insurance coverage. NJHA hired a total of 25 veterans for this important work in a program made possible through a one-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Jersey Health Initiatives. It’s a great partnership. We’ve been able to hire 25 people who have already served their country, to serve it yet again in a different capacity – enrolling people in ObamaCare. 

You can read HHS’ post here. We thank Secretary Sebelius and her team for blogging about Hilda and our efforts to directly enroll people through the Health Insurance Marketplace. One thing the blog didn’t include was that Hilda was surprised to be called up to speak to reporters and others who had gathered for the event. But you’d never know it – she was composed, articulate and did a great job. (Go Navy!) Thanks Hilda, and thank you to Secretary Sebelius for sharing our program with readers across the nation. Thanks also to Mayor Fulop for his efforts to have multilingual college students reach out to the diverse population of Jersey City to urge them to obtain enrollment.

Written by Betsy Ryan at 00:00

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