Northern Nevada Hospitals Expand

Everywhere you look in Northern Nevada hospitals are expanding (and advertising more).

This article by Zack Hall from today's Reno Gazette Journal provides detail:

The region's major hospitals want people in Northern Nevada to know that the reasons for leaving Nevada for health care are waning.

Renown Health, Saint Mary's Regional Medical Center, Carson-Tahoe Regional Medical Center and Northern Nevada Medical Center all are in expansion mode, and that means more services are being offered to more people.

In fact, Northern Nevada's three largest hospitals will complete nearly $500 million in new construction by this summer, the product of a three-year building binge at Saint Mary's, Renown and Carson-Tahoe.

Nowhere is that more apparent than at Reno's Renown, which other than changing its name from Washoe Medical Center, soon will open its $240 million patient tower and has plans for future growth in the millions of dollars.

Jim Miller, president/CEO of Renown, the area's largest health care network, says the rapid expansion of all the hospitals has allowed for better service in such fields as oncology and cardiology, areas where a lack of specialists in Northern Nevada previously sent patients to California.

"They don't need to leave as they used to to get their care," Miller said. "Specifically, things that come up are children's services and cancer. We believe that with the services available in the hospitals in our community, we should be able to treat most cases that people have."

With the new Tahoe Tower, Renown also will have more private and amenity-rich rooms, something that Saint Mary's also is looking to include.

Renown also has stepped up its efforts with cardiology, adding a Women's Heart Program, and neurosurgery, becoming one of the first 20 hospitals in the country to offer Novalis Shaped Beam Radiosurgery, which allows non-invasive surgery on such maladies as brain tumors, officials say.

But expansion hasn't stopped with Renown.

Prescriptions for success

Saint Mary's expansion has included its $160 million Center for Health, an outpatient facility that has helped the hospital expand such services as orthopedics as well as preventative care efforts with its three-story fitness center housed inside the building.

Northern Nevada Medical Center, which along with Saint Mary's has struggled to get contracts with health insurance providers that give access to the Sparks facility, has invested in a $1.8 million lab for cardiac services and has plans to expand laboratory services for outpatient treatment and to add an imaging center for Spanish Springs.

Carson-Tahoe, with its new facility in north Carson City, started its cancer center and a cardiac care unit, to give more expansive care to its patients.

"We have cancer patients telling us that in the past they would have chosen to go to maybe Davis (Calif.) or San Francisco or somewhere else," said Diane Rush, marketing coordinator for Tahoe Regional Healthcare. "Now we have the capability of treating that all here in one comprehensive place. And we have gone above and beyond to make sure that we measure up with the technology, with the skilled physicians, getting the (American College of Surgeons) accreditation."

Vital signs

The hospitals in the region are big business, have a huge economic impact in the area and are ultra-competitive.

In total, hospitals account for 9,000 direct jobs and 7,000 indirect jobs, according to a report by area hospitals released in May.

But each hospital is taking a different approach to its growth.

Northern Nevada Medical Center has tried to focus on its patient service, including its guarantee that a staff member will see a patient within 15 minutes of entering the emergency room; it also has added its first urologist to its emergency department.

The Sparks hospital, the smallest of the major hospitals, is trying to get better access to patients by contracting with insurance companies.

Most health-care contracts in Northern Nevada are negotiated exclusively for patients to be treated at either Saint Mary's Health Network or, to a much larger extent, Renown Health. Northern Nevada and Saint Mary's want to change that.

To that end, Northern Nevada entered last year into a contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Nevada, one of the largest carriers in the state, and is in negotiations with carriers such as United Health and Aetna to make its services more widely available.

"We are focused on giving people an opportunity to choose us for their services," said Brandt Wright, chief executive and managing director of the Sparks hospital. "(The Blue Cross/Blue Shield contract) gave about 60,000 people in our immediate service area access to our hospital who didn't have access to our hospital. Obviously, if you are talking about developing new services and investing new capital, people have to have access to your services in order to get a return on that investment."

Healthy competition

Competition with Renown, which has the only Level II-trauma center and neonatal care facility, has been difficult for the two smaller hospitals in the Reno-Sparks area.

Saint Mary's just three years ago fell into financial trouble, losing $10 million in 2004, when it began layoffs and other cuts that eliminated more than 200 jobs.

Like Northern Nevada Medical Center, Saint Mary's is healthier these days and joined Catholic Healthcare West, a network of more than 40 hospitals throughout the West, allowing the hospital to pool resources with other, larger hospitals outside the area.

The hospital has plans to open urgent care centers in Spanish Springs and Fernley to give patients better access to Saint Mary's.

Saint Mary's also has plans to double its emergency room capacity, something all four hospitals are dealing with as the area's population has exploded.

"Doubling the size of our emergency department is really going to be a significant improvement for us," said Lisa Dettling, director of marketing and business development for Saint Mary's. "In our particular ED, we were designed for 30,000 visits a year, and we are seeing 50,000."

Critical collaboration

Tensions are high among the area's hospitals, most commonly in reaction to Saint Mary's and Northern Nevada Medical Center's complaints about Renown's exclusive contracts with insurance providers.

But officials for all four of the hospitals agree they do work together to provide better care.

In fact Renown, Carson-Tahoe and Northern Nevada joined together to launch a marketing campaign this spring named "your hospitals, your community -- together we thrive."

The effort is a campaign to inform the public of the services Northern Nevada hospitals provide, ranging from free health and wellness clinics to subsidized care.

"I believe the level of cooperation among the hospitals is very high," Miller said. "While federal anti-trust laws require us to compete somewhat, when you take a look at quality initiatives, standardizations, creating protocols and so forth, I believe the hospitals in our community are getting together and working through those issues."

The hospitals have partnered for such programs as free immunizations for children and flu shots.

It's not a perfect relationship between the hospitals, but Rush says it works for Northern Nevada patients.

"When we pull together, we have a lot to offer," Rush said. "We are here 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are not a lot of businesses that are like that. I think we do a pretty good job."