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.

The Right Step: Governor Calls for Increased Funds for Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse Services

All eyes and ears were on Governor Christie Tuesday as he delivered his annual State of the State address. He covered a lot of ground in his remarks, but for a large population in need in our state, no section was more important than the Governor’s call for greater funding for behavioral health and substance abuse treatment.

The Governor said he will budget a $100 million increase in Medicaid payments for healthcare providers that provide mental health and addiction services. It is welcome news for our healthcare providers. Medicaid traditionally has had very low reimbursement rates – so much so that it can sometimes be difficult locating a provider that accepts Medicaid cases. This infusion of state funds will allow providers to increase access to these essential services.

Some of the money will be earmarked for Medicaid accountable care organizations. Their mission is to identify those individuals who are high-frequency/high-cost users of services. Finding them proactively and giving them care in the right setting will help us avoid what is all-too-often the current practice – episodic care in hospital EDs.

This is one of the times where the right policy approach is also the right human approach. We applaud the Governor for this important step.

Written by Betsy Ryan at 00:00

Why We Support Community Contribution Fee for Hospitals

The recent Morristown Memorial tax court decision in June created a great deal of uncertainty for hospitals, municipalities and, in fact, for nonprofit entities all across New Jersey. While not binding statewide, the ruling for the first time stated that part of a not-for-profit hospital was subject to local property taxes. Perhaps anticipating the hubbub his ruling would spark, Judge Vito Bianco acknowledged the issue might require a statewide legislative solution.

A solution – and we believe a very good one – is progressing through the New Jersey Legislature. S-3299/A-4903, introduced by Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Sens. Robert Singer and Joe Vitale, along with Assemblyman John Burzichelli, would establish a community contribution fee from not-for-profit hospitals that would flow to their host municipalities. The proposal provides an equitable statewide solution. Without it, the tax court ruling is likely to lead to a flurry of lawsuits involving lengthy and expensive litigation throughout the state.

To be clear, not-for-profit hospitals are entities that do not have owners or shareholders. They are led by a board of community volunteers, where any positive margins from their operations are reinvested back into the organization to serve the healthcare mission. Not-for-profit hospitals have been exempt from property taxes in New Jersey since laws were enacted in 1913. Our member hospitals are valued parts of their communities, always there to provide healthcare services to all who need them, as well as providing jobs and added community benefits that help keep local economies healthy. Recognizing this, NJHA convened a task force comprised of members of New Jersey’s not-for-profit hospitals who agreed to support legislation that contributed a reasonable amount of money, along with their existing community benefit contributions, to offset the costs of local services provided by their host municipalities.

S-3299/A-4903, which received unanimous support from the NJHA task force and our Board of Trustees, reaffirms the property tax exemption of New Jersey’s not-for-profit hospitals while creating a way for these hospitals to provide even greater support to their host municipalities. The legislation extends not-for-profit hospitals’ contributions by providing host municipalities with a community contribution fee that will raise roughly $20 to $25 million annually statewide – in addition to the local property taxes that not-for-profit hospitals already pay when leasing space like medical office buildings and other retail space. The new money is earmarked for municipalities’ public safety expenditures.

For hospitals, the commitment to community goes well beyond healthcare services. The accounting firm EY (formerly Ernst & Young) recently completed a study for NJHA, calculating that our hospitals provide more than $2.4 billion in community benefits annually. These contributions include free and discounted care for the poor, uninsured and senior citizens; community health offerings like immunization clinics and other wellness programs; education for future healthcare professionals; medical research; and a wide array of additional community programs. In one community I know, the local hospital has donated parcels of land for public use; others have donated Narcan to their local police departments to help prevent opioid overdoses. Charity care services alone – delivered to New Jersey residents who have no health insurance – total about $1 billion annually. And that charity care will continue uninterrupted, no matter what happens with this bill. That’s an obligation already written in state law – not to mention a key part of the mission of not-for profit hospitals.

This bill represents an extension of our hospitals’ longstanding commitments to the communities they serve, while providing certainty and predictability during one of the most dynamic periods of change ever experienced in our nation’s healthcare sector.

In addition to community benefits, not-for-profit hospitals are also prime drivers of economic activity within their communities, employing nearly 144,000 people whose wages and tax contributions ripple throughout the economy.

New Jersey’s hospitals are committed to doing their share to support their municipalities, while continuing to serve as good neighbors and answering the needs of their patients.  We urge the Legislature to pass S-3299/A-4903 and ask Governor Christie to sign this bill which will quell the legal uncertainty and ensure a balanced statewide solution. 

Written by Betsy Ryan at 00:00

4 Reasons to Feel Good About Healthcare in the Garden State

There’s plenty of reason to feel good about the state of your healthcare here in New Jersey. The accolades have been pouring in in recent weeks:

  • New Jersey hospitals once again ranked 5th best nationwide for patient safety, according to the semi-annual Hospital Safety Score released by the Leapfrog Group in October.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported this week that an estimated 87,000 fewer patients died in hospitals and nearly $20 billion in healthcare costs were saved as a result of a reduction in hospital-acquired conditions from 2010 to 2014. During this same period, New Jersey hospitals, working together with NJHA under the Partnership for Patients-NJ initiative, achieved measurable reductions in hospital-acquired conditions. That work averted 13,730 cases of patient harm and achieved $120 million in healthcare cost savings over the project’s initial three years.
  • Also this week comes news that New Jersey has an impressive four hospitals on the Leapfrog Group’s list of the Top Hospitals of 2015 list. Only 98 of the 1,600 U.S. hospitals that submit data to Leapfrog make the list. How impressive is New Jersey’s showing? Consider that our neighbors in New York didn’t have any hospitals on the list, and Pennsylvania had one. Congratulations to Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, Saint Barnabas Medical Center, Virtua Marlton and Virtua Voorhees.
  • And among the nation’s nursing homes, New Jersey facilities exceed the national average with 75 percent of our facilities scoring three stars or more on the national Nursing Home Compare’s 5-star rating system.

We’re proud to be among such great company, but even more proud to provide New Jersey residents with some of the nation’s finest healthcare services. 

Written by Betsy Ryan at 00:00

A Hat Trick for Healthcare

Our healthcare system has scored a hat trick of reduced mortality rates, fewer hospitalizations and reduced healthcare costs, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That’s great news for patients, taxpayers, employers and anyone who’s interested in high-value healthcare.

Researchers from the Yale School of Medicine reported that mortality rates among Medicare patients fell 16 percent from 1999 to 2013. That’s 300,000 fewer deaths a year in 2013 than in 1999, said cardiologist Harlan Krumholz, the lead researcher and author. He called the results “jaw-dropping.”

In addition, hospitalization rates fell 24 percent, and the costs for hospitalized patients fell by 15 percent.

Those findings are precisely the types of results we’re striving for in our hospitals and other healthcare organizations. Our goal, and our challenge under the Affordable Care Act, is to provide high-quality healthcare at lower costs. And we do that by focusing on wellness and preventative services, keeping patients out of the hospital, improving quality and reducing complications and providing the right amount of care in the right healthcare setting. That’s why you’re seeing things like hospital-run fitness centers and urgi-care centers; hospitals integrating into larger systems with physician groups and post-acute providers; patient follow-up programs that aim to keep discharged patients from a return hospital stay; and many more new initiatives.

It’s incredibly rewarding to see those efforts validated and quantified in the JAMA report. We know there’s much more change and many more challenges ahead as we work to transform our healthcare system. But today, it’s great to see that our shots are on goal and we’ve found the back of the net

Written by Default at 00:00

Demand for Blood Donations Never Takes a Vacation

It’s summertime, but please don’t take a vacation from donating blood. Hospitals rely on blood donations to care for cancer patients, trauma victims, people undergoing surgeries and more. Blood donations traditionally drop off significantly in the summer months, but the demand for blood never takes a break. In fact, our healthcare facilities need 110 pints of blood daily to keep up with demand.

New Jersey used 31,400 more units of blood than it collected in 2012 (that’s the most recent data available.) While 60 percent of people in New Jersey are eligible to donate blood, only 3.6 percent of them do — compared with 5 percent nationally.

You can help. Find a blood donation site near you and schedule an appointment or drop in at a blood drive. Click here for a list of blood centers at New Jersey hospitals.

Or, plan to attend the Aug. 6 mega blood drive at Rutgers’ Student Center, cosponsored by the university, the N.J. Department of Health and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. You can find more details here.

If you’re an employer, I challenge you to hold a blood drive in your workplace. We hold several a year here at NJHA, and I’m very proud of the generosity of the NJHA employees who literally roll up their sleeves to help others.

Written by Betsy Ryan at 00:00

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