During a pre-Thanksgiving visit to Montezuma Creek, officials from University of Utah Health Care met with administrators and staff of Utah Navajo Health System, Inc., to finalize a formal affiliation between the two organizations.
The new affiliation will help bring enhanced medical care to UNHS patients in San Juan County, and access to medical specialists from University of Utah Health Care. One of the goals is to bring these services to patients, locally, without them having to travel long distances to see a specialist. This is already being done in some cases, with tele-medicine technology. But that service can be expanded with this affiliation.
UNHS CEO Michael Jensen hosted a noon luncheon, with U of U and Blue Mountain Hospital officials and UNHS staff, to discuss the advantages the affiliation will offer.
"We were founded back in 2000, and we've had just rapid growth for a rural clinic in a remote area," Jensen told the group. "I think a lot of that has to do with the partnerships we've made out in the community, and certainly one of the biggest ones we've had is the University of Utah all along. The U of U has really helped us through the years. We've had medical students here, dental students, Tele-health. The only reason we have some really great technology is because of the Utah Tele-health Network and the partnership we have with them," Jensen continued.
"Certainly the Moran Eye Center has been just incredible for us and our patients. They're changing lives down here and it's just an amazing program to partnership with them. And so today, I'd just like to say thanks. I don't know where this is going to go, but if we can build on some of the things we've done, we're just really excited to do it."
In October, University of Utah Health Care formed a similar affiliation with Blue Mountain Hospital, in Blanding, setting the stage for a collaborative effort between those two groups for enhanced healthcare services to BMH patients.
"We're excited," said BMH CEO Jeremy Lyman of the agreement between University of Utah Health Care and UNHS. "We urge Mike and UNHS to go forth with this because we have. We have a great partnership (with UNHS) and it only makes sense. We're involved, and we work very closely together as a system so, we're exited about this affiliation."
Dr. Sean Mulvilhill, CEO of the University of Utah Medical Group, told those at the luncheon healthcare in America is changing, and there are gaps in the way healthcare is delivered.
"We have patients that don't have access to all the care they need. We've got a lot of social determinants to health care that we haven't effectively integrated into our healthcare delivery system. And we think the future lies in stronger collaborative partnerships across healthcare delivery providers. We need to communicate more effectively. We need to understand the needs of the patients that we're sharing care for, and I think this outreach is part of that conversation."
Dr. Val Jones, Medical Director for UNHS, has been with the organization since it began. He talked about the association UNHS has had with the University of Utah, and expressed his support for the proposed affiliation.
"We've had an association with the University of Utah. I've been a preceptor for OBGYN interns, family practice residents and medical students for a lot of years. Just having those people come down helps keep us in touch with the latest medical care. We're very isolated out here and don't have a lot of communication with a lot of colleagues and moment-to- moment communication with specialists. I'm always kind of amazed that anyone even knows we exist down here. If you talk to anyone from Salt Lake, southern Utah is always St. George and nobody really knows where we're at. In some ways that's okay. We're off the radar and if some foreign country wanted to drop a bomb, we're very unlikely to be a target. We have a really good group of pro-viders, a great organization, great leadership, and I'm just tickled that this more formal association is occurring."
Also attending the luncheon was Dr. Thomas L. Miller, Chief Medical Officer for University Health Care. He said he was touched by the warmth of the people at UNHS.
"It's great. I see a lot of cohesiveness here. It really excites me and it's fun to hear about. We have a lot of great specialists, and the question is how do we get them to your patients in a way that minimizes their hassle with travel and getting back and forth. How can we provide them, and you, with the kind of care that you need through specialty services?" Miller asked.
UNHS Patient Navigator, Cynthia Weaver, explained the process for helping patients see primary care providers at UNHS, and then seeing that they are cared for if they need to go up north. The nearest specialist is in Salt Lake, at the University of Utah, she said. Her concern includes getting the patient there and letting them know she's set up their appointment.
"We're going to set up transportation. If they have Medicaid Services the transportation is a free service, so I make the arrangements. And when we do set up the appointment I always make sure there's an interpreter for them. Whichever department I call I make sure there is a Navajo speaking interpreter for the patient. When I send a patient, I worry about them. I want to make sure they are being taken care of as if we are taking care of them here. So when they get there I want them to feel like they are getting the information and the treatment, and understanding the treatment there," Weaver said.
Miller told Weaver about the UUHC's 'transfer center' that works with organizations like UNHS to help set up appointments for patients. He said he has started a program called the 'Connect Program' to help physicians and patients with questions about which UUHC specialist they need to see. By calling the Connect Program number, they can get help finding the right physician for that patient. This program works in a similar manner to patient navigator, Miller explained.
He also explained the 'exceptional patient experience web site'. He said if you Google a physician's name on the Internet, you will find patients' comments about their experience with that physician in clinic. This is available for every UUHC provider to allow potential patients to see how other patients rate the UUHC's providers. Miller said UUHC is the only hospital system in the country to offer this service.
"You can go in and get a star rating and read patient comments," Miller explained. "We don't strip out the negative comments. They're all in there for you to see. So if a patient says, 'who am I going to see?' you go to that bio site and it gives the ratings. It also gives a background, their training, their interests, academically. I think it's a good thing. "
He also assured Weaver interpreter services are available for those needing them.
Much of the discussion focused on the opportunity for UNHS to connect with other affiliate healthcare organizations that are partnering with University of Utah Health Care. Tad Morley, Executive Director of Business & Network Development for the University of Utah, said he believes UNHS can provide training, and learn from, the other affiliate organizations that work with the UUHC.
"This is not a one way street. This is very much a two way street, where we hope to learn from you about what you're doing well, and that we can learn from one another. We're putting together that structure so it can happen more fluidly," Morley added. "I've kind of described this as, we've poured the footers and now we need to build on this relationship. So we've kind of decided that we're going to build together and now what we're going to build is up to us. What makes sense for you and what we're able to deliver. And just to be clear, we want to do everything we possibly can, but we can't do everything. One of my tag lines is, Get To No Fast. If we can't do it, we'll let you know and we won't just drag you along. But we'll try to understand what your need is and if we can't do it, we'll be transparent about that. We will do everything we can to try and figure out ways to deliver on what you've requested."
UNHS Blanding Family Practice Manager, Nick Fox, said if patients need to see specialists at the UUHC, many of the tests they must have could be done locally. Then, when they go to Salt Lake, they can have their tests in hand to give to the specialist they see. This would eliminate the need to return to Salt Lake again to have these tests done later.
"For a lot of our folks, who struggle with gas money to get up there, offering these services locally can really be lifesaving. Where we can take care of them locally," Jensen said. "We're close, we know them, and if we need to get them up, we'll find a way to get them up there, but just sending them up at the front end, we often find that they just can't get up there."
There was more discussion about the benefits of an affiliation between UNHS and UUHC, including a new lodging arrangement in a recently purchased motel, for families of patients needing to stay in the hospital for longer periods. The fees for staying in this facility are very affordable, according to Mulvihill.
"You guys are the big organization, obviously, and a lot of what you've said - you can come down and help us - and we are so grateful for that," Jensen said. "But we want to be a key partner. So please give us feedback as we move forward about how we can be a better partner with you, and what we can bring to the table. How we can make this a good process?"