Hospitals transform health care

PeaceHealth Southwest, Legacy Salmon Creek embrace change

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter


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Clark County’s two dominant hospitals — PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center and Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center — are contributing to an overall transformation of the U.S. health care industry even as they seek to change how they deliver health care services regionally.

The merger, in December 2010, of PeaceHealth and Vancouver-based Southwest Washington Medical Center set up a sprawling health organization, with roughly 15,000 employees, eight hospitals dotting Washington, Oregon and Alaska, and nearly $2 billion in revenues.

With PeaceHealth as its new corporate parent, Vancouver’s formerly independent hospital, Southwest, became PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.

The merger promises to reshape both Clark County’s economy and how health care services are delivered here.

Last year, for example, Bellevue-based PeaceHealth chose the same east Vancouver site that houses Nautilus Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. for its new corporate headquarters. The nonprofit chose Columbia Center at Columbia Tech Center, 1115 S.E. 164th Ave., over the 10-story Bank of America Financial Center, 805 Broadway.

In addition to relocating its headquarters, Catholic-sponsored PeaceHealth plans to move 467 jobs from the nonprofit’s other locations to Columbia Center. It also will move another 150 jobs from current Southwest Medical Center offices to Columbia Center for a total of 617 jobs.

The transition of jobs to Columbia Center is expected to be completed by June 2014.

PeaceHealth leaders also aim to boost health care services regionally. The nonprofit’s initiatives include expanding PeaceHealth’s “bridge assistance” program, which helps low-income people pay their medical bills and to get financial counseling; expanding Southwest’s family practice and residency training program in Vancouver and replicating that program in other communities PeaceHealth serves; and tapping the sophistication of both PeaceHealth’s and Southwest’s medical labs to transform them into what Peter Adler, senior vice president and chief strategy officer for PeaceHealth, has called the “premier laboratory system in the Northwestern U.S.”

Meanwhile, the 220-bed Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center — part of the larger Portland-based Legacy Health System — is driving big changes in different ways.

The Salmon Creek hospital remains Legacy’s flagship in terms of visibility in Clark County.

But Legacy’s Medical Group clinics in Salmon Creek, Fisher’s Landing and Battle Ground will, in the years ahead, become the sites of “some significant changes associated with health care reform,” according to Dr. Melinda Muller, vice president of primary care for Legacy Medical Group, who addressed the future of health care in a Jan. 23 column she wrote for The Columbian.

The vehicle for those changes is the Medical Home model of health care which has three goals: shift currently disjointed medical care to a coordinated model; move from a model in which patients see multiple physicians to a model where one person is in charge; and aim for a system where physicians function in a team.

Legacy hopes to eventually have all of its primary care clinics in the Portland-Vancouver region operating based on the Medical Home system.

As Muller wrote in her column, the key idea behind the Medical Home program is to meet the needs of patients, connecting them with “a consistent provider with whom they can communicate.”

As it seeks to establish innovative ways of caring for patients, Legacy also is on the forefront of changing the way future hospitals will be designed and built.

A federally funded study of Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center’s energy usage dug up data that capsize long-held assumptions about which parts of a hospital use the most energy. Released in October 2011, the study found that imaging equipment, hot water and elevators are not, surprisingly, large consumers of energy. Yet the single biggest user of energy at the Salmon Creek hospital is air-reheating equipment, accounting for more than 40 percent of energy consumption.

The 57-page study, led by the University of Washington’s Integrated Design Lab and Eugene, Ore.-based SOLARC Architecture and Engineering Inc., likely will have national impact, influencing both the design and construction of hospitals, as well as retrofits.

That’s because the data were gathered from the Salmon Creek hospital, a relatively new, state-of-the-art facility that “provided a good foundation” for understanding how a hospital “uses electricity and natural gas for its complex operations,” according to the study.

Heather Burpee, research assistant professor of health design and energy efficiency at the UW’s Integrated Design Lab, said everyone from engineering firms and the U.S. Department of Energy to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers will be able to use the data to make better energy saving decisions when it comes to hospital design.

“The leaders that we’ve been working with nationally have been really keen on getting this data,” Burpee said.