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.

Give A Pint, Save a Life

January is National Blood Donor Month and it’s your chance to be a hero. Give the gift of life if you see an area blood drive or if your work conducts one.

Nine out of 10 people will need blood at some point during their lifetime. And yet, the chronic shortage of donated blood often means that our hospitals have less than a two-day supply of blood on hand to treat patients. When blood supplies run very low, our hospitals may be forced to ration blood. That may sound scary – and it’s very serious – but hospitals have plans for those low-blood situations. Emergency procedures would receive priority, and elective surgeries would be limited.

In New Jersey, 60 percent of adults are eligible to give blood, but only 3.6 percent do. We fall short of the national average of 5 percent. As a result, New Jersey finds itself in the unwanted position of having to regularly import blood from other states.

Where I work, the New Jersey Hospital Association, we are committed to having blood drives every 60 days. In the past several years we have hosted about 20 workplace drives and collected more than 700 pints of blood. Because blood components can be separated out – into plasma, platelets and the like – those 700 pints have the potential to help 2,100 individuals. I am proud of what our employees give, and need to give special kudos to our own Mary Ditri (whom we now call “Bloody Mary”) for being tireless in organizing and promoting our blood drives. Thanks Mary. Now, who else is going to give a pint?

Written by Betsy Ryan at 14:03

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C’Mon Supremes, Let Us In

When I was a young lawyer, I thought a lot about the U.S. Supreme Court – what it must be like to be on the court, to deliberate, research and argue among some of the finest legal minds in the nation. Time has passed, but I still hold the U.S. Supreme Court with the highest regard and reverence.

But (and I am not sure if they have the power to smite me down for saying this) it is time for our Supreme Court justices to come into the 21st century and allow television to cover at least some of the oral arguments they hear. Many courts allow television coverage and Congress and legislatures do as well. Every governor has a relationship with the press and press availability. Why should the U.S. Supreme Court be exempt?

C-Span, which has a vested interest in this debate, has a really interesting Web site devoted to what the current justices say about TVs in their courtroom. The arguments given against allowing televised proceedings are not that compelling (I say with all due respect to my legal elders). Justice Roberts says it may impact the functioning of the institution. Justice Anthony Kennedy says, “televising our proceedings would change our collegial dynamic.” In other words, the Justices might start asking questions for the cameras to get a sound bite on Fox, MSNBC or CNN.

But how about balancing that fear with transparency? How about that portion of our citizenry that would love to take a peek into how the Supreme Court operates? One modest proposal would be to just try it – starting with the upcoming five-and-a-half hours of oral argument on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. There are many, many people in healthcare that would watch, many lawyers that would watch, and perhaps the estimated 44 million-plus uninsured that have a vested interest in the outcome would want to watch.

We as taxpayers pay for the U.S. Supreme Court. I am not suggesting they televise every proceeding, but there are some matters that are of such import to our citizenry that we deserve a peek. (Bush v. Gore comes to mind when our entire country didn’t know who the next President was due to some hanging chads). I think it could be done in a dignified, informative fashion.

So c’mon, Supremes, let us in. Just try it. Nothing ventured nothing gained, as my Mom used to say.

Written by Betsy Ryan at 20:12

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’Tis the Season… for Flu Shots

’Tis the season for shopping, socializing, a sprinkle of snow – and flu shots.

That’s right. As much as it may hurt – just a pinch, really – I urge all of you to get a flu shot this December. Don’t delay.

If you’re a healthcare worker, it’s extra important to provide protection to yourselves and your patients by getting the shot. Most facilities make it easy by providing flu shots at convenient times. I know of some hospitals that have a designated flu vax team to bring the vaccine straight to you, providing a flu shot on the spot.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccination rates for healthcare workers climbed to 63.5 percent for the 2010-2011 flu season. That’s a modest increase from the rate of 61.9 percent reported in 2009-2010. Hospital workers had the highest vaccination rate among healthcare providers, reaching 71.1 percent. That’s an improvement – but still not good enough. The CDC’s goal is a 90 percent vaccination rate for healthcare workers.

And even if you don’t work in healthcare, take care of yourself and your loved ones by getting the flu vaccine. I do a lot of driving around our great state and I don’t think I’ve recently passed a CVS or a Rite Aid without seeing flu shots offered for a nominal fee. A lot of insurance plans will even pay for the shot.

In this season of caring, take care of yourself and those around you by getting a flu shot. It will only hurt for a second, and it will help protect you for months to come.

Written by Betsy Ryan at 15:33

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It’s Official: Supreme Court Will Decide Fate of Reform Law

We learned this week that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare if you prefer). The Court announced that it will hear an almost unprecedented five-and-half hours of oral argument on the case in March 2012, with a decision likely in late June 2012. Some of the key questions to be decided by the Court include:

  • The constitutionality of the individual mandate that American citizens carry health insurance or pay a penalty.
  • Whether the rest of the law may move forward if the individual mandate is not upheld.
  • Whether Congress can expand Medicaid to cover more people and require states to pay for their portion of Medicaid. (In New Jersey, we have a 50-50 match, so if the feds spend a dollar, the state must match that dollar. Under healthcare reform, the feds pay 100 percent until 2016 and then the state governments would have to pick up its fair share of the cost of the expansion.)
  • Whether the case is even ripe for Supreme Court review. Some say that the penalty provision of the law must go into effect first in 2015 before the Court can decide the case. On this last point, the Court did leave itself some wiggle room for a deferral of a decision if it agrees that the penalty provision must go into effect first.

I’m a healthcare professional first and foremost, but I’m also an attorney. And for the healthcare community, the individual mandate is key. If the rest of the law moves forward without the individual mandate, we will be left with many positive aspects of the law, but the largest one – providing care for insured Americans in exchange for $155 billion in cuts to our reimbursement over at 10-year period – will be stripped away. The cuts will stay, but hospitals and other healthcare providers will still be required to care for people who cannot pay.

The arguments in this case will be fascinating (if they sold tickets for this on Stubhub I’d buy one) and the subsequent decision even more so. Hopefully, we will have some clarity in just seven months. In the meantime, N.J. hospitals will continue to do what they’ve always done – provide care to all despite great challenges and uncertainty.

Written by Betsy Ryan at 14:04

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Honor the Veterans Who Serve and Protect

Friday is Veteran's Day – a day for us to thank those who have served our country in the Armed Forces. With the United States currently involved in Afghanistan and Iraq and servicemen and women serving multiple tours of duties -- and their families facing unbearable absences and constant worry – I urge you to take the time to thank a vet for serving and protecting.

I have two brothers-in-law who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both are retired U.S. Marine Corps. Semper fi. That time-honored phrase always makes me think of retired Sen. Bob Littell who proudly wore a Marine Corps emblem on his lapel. Veterans Day also makes me think of my father, my father-in-law, my grandfather, my husband and brother, all of whom served and made our family very proud. And I think of NJHA's own Aline Holmes who served in the U.S. Navy as an ER nurse. I think of countless others, and those who never returned.

So if you have the chance, and if you feel like I do, take the time to thank the vets in your life. And say a prayer for those servicemen and women serving our country right now.

Written by Betsy Ryan at 19:45

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