Porterville, CA- As American health care continues to change, everyone in Porterville will be affected by it, said Joe Stewart, CEO and president of Sierra View District Hospital.
Stewart, who has been at the helm of the hospital since January following the retirement of Dennis Coleman, has been connecting with the community, listening and learning from residents on how the hospital can better serve them.
“I have spoken with so many fellow residents of our area who have shared many stories about how they were treated at the hospital,” Stewart said. “Most of them are quite good and some clearly show me where we need to meet citizen expectations in a better way.”
He is concerned with staying in touch with the community because of the occurring changes of how people will obtain health care over the next few years. Health care, he said, that a lot of people take for granted.
“We have to see the big picture. I continue to believe we’re in one of time’s biggest changes for American health care,” Stewart said. “It’s a simple statement but important because people take things for granted. People expect it to be there. The thing I want to point out is that we can’t really count on health care as we always had. We’re going to need to begin, and already have, to take care of people in different ways.”
One way is by shortening the length of a hospital stay, not shortchanging a patient of quality treatment, but offering more efficient ways to treat a patient, resulting in a faster recovery and a shorter hospital stay, something that can be accomplished with connecting with patients, educating before, during and after hospital stays — stressing the importance of taking care of an ailment before it gets out of control and requires emergency care.
Stewart also said he believes the Affordable Health Care Act, passed by Congress and recently signed into law by President Obama, will bring about some of the biggest changes — resulting from dramatic shortfalls in the state’s negative budget prospects for the next few years — in California.
“We have already begun to feel the effects of the big cuts enacted in Gov. Brown’s 2012-13 approved budget. Sierra View had a cut of $4 million dollars in state funding for the Medi-Cal patients who use the hospital,” Stewart said. “These are patients who are just about making it financially and usually are at higher risk for getting sick. That means the hospital has to find new ways to help support this kind of shortfall for community support.”
Impending big federal cuts in health care funding set for the end of the year due to the national budget’s massive shortfalls, is another concern.
“We as health care providers have to become ingenious in re imagining how we can provide the best of health care at a price that people, businesses and governments can afford. It may not be easy, but I am convinced it must be done,” Stewart said.
Future of Health Care
Sierra View District Hospital has begun planning efforts to redesign care in the community — making it better and easier to use. Most communities, Stewart said, offer more care outside the hospital — surgery centers, laboratories, imaging centers and prevention programs, conveniently located at one place for easy and quick access — than in it.
The concept is one Sierra View plans to bring to Porterville in the next 24 to 36 months.
“Plans are now being developed to provide a whole new place to house and coordinate all the care the community may need in a much more convenient and modern outpatient setting,” Stewart said.
The hospital’s purchase of the Cobble Stone Court office development at Morton Avenue and Villa Street, and the business office complex on Westwood St., was done before Stewart arrived, but both are offering the hospital options.
“We’re examining the best use for the two buildings. Can one be our first outpatient center? We’re looking at that and by the end of summer will have an idea if it will work,” Stewart said. An outpatient gastrointestinal lab, where colonoscopies can be performed, is another possible option, Stewart said.
“Not in ten years. We’re saying something could be started as soon as this year, as soon as next October — they should be getting back to the Board with a report by fall,” Stewart said.
Also on the planning table is the development of programs to help people with chronic conditions to avoid hospital stays.
Stewart cited diabetes as an example a rapidly-growing chronic condition. Left unattended, it leads to serious consequences, expensive hospital stays and possible irreversible damage.
“New chronic care management programs outside the hospital walls will put physicians and nurses and other providers directly in touch with patients in their homes, or in specially designed centers that patient can use easily and quickly to respond to changes in their health status because of chronic condition complications,” Stewart said.
A third area of focus for the hospital centers on new and innovative ways to work with older people as they age and need more help in coping with conditions that change the senior’s — the largest users of the health care system in the United States — ability to care for themselves.
“The emphasis here will be to work with the individual older person and their family to create care plans that seek a balance between their diminished capabilities and their desire to try to live as normal life as possible,” Stewart said. “If [elderly’s] initial visit with a nurse is in the living room of their home, and not a nurse in the emergency room, an E.R. visit may be avoided.”
He again envisions teams of health care providers working directly with patients to help them stay as healthy as possible.
“Seniors need to be encouraged to find ways to keep active and eat well, and socialize with friends and family as opposed to shutting down and sitting alone at home,” Stewart said, adding he has a personal dedication to the aging population from his earlier days at New York University School of Medicine where he developed one of the very first programs for medical students in the care of the elderly.
Within the hospital, new or expanded programs to respond to patients with strokes and heart attacks are being created.
“Time is of the essence, in taking care of people with these conditions. People treated within windows of 30 to 90 minutes of the onset of stroke and heart attacks can have remarkable results that can be stunning. But people need to respond quickly and get themselves to the emergency room,” Stewart said. “But if they wait too long, they can lose some of the effects. You can’t do that with a long drive. Closeness is an important part of modern medicine.”
A new program will also be introduced to get people with less threatening conditions through a “fast-track” system in the ER, lowering waiting times in the emergency department that tend to drive people nuts, Stewart said.
Some things will not be changed, Stewart said, because they are already successful and highly appreciated by the community, such as its large birthing program and a neonatal intensive care unit with specially trained medical and nursing staffs; and the cancer program where hundreds of patients are offered “truly great state of the art care close to home”.
“Cancer care is standard everywhere in the country. There’s no secret in Los Angeles. They have the same medicine there as we do here,” Stewart said.
With all the envisioned changed, Stewart said he hopes the community will take a second look at the hospital and see it as a valuable, contemporary, and trusted partner in keeping people healthy.
“In that sense, I invite people to look again to their community hospital,” he said. “This is a real good community hospital. This is not your grandfather’s hospital. It’s time to get people introduced to their hospital. When all is said and done, we have an extremely dedicated medical staff as well as a very talented nursing and clinical staff. We love taking care of our friends and neighbors. At Sierra View you will never be a number. You will always be someone we know and treasure. We look forward to connect with all of our community to help us be the hospital that all trust and respect.”
THE PORTERVILLE RECORDER
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.