Health System ‘Capable of Weathering the Storm’ in Health Care

November 14, 2013

As American health care faces significant transformation and uncertainty, the University of Virginia’s Medical Center Operating Board heard Thursday that the U.Va. Health System is well-positioned to adapt.

“We’re very capable of weathering the storm, no matter how hard the winds blow,” Dr. Richard P. Shannon, executive vice president for health affairs, told the board.

The next step, he said, is to grow better and stronger by embracing the concept of continuous improvement and continuing to find innovative ways to provide quality care.

Thursday’s meeting – held in conjunction with the Board of Visitors’ two-day meeting, which ends Friday – highlighted some of those innovative efforts.

U.Va. Continuum Home Health has partnered with Broad Axe Care Coordination LLC to establish a care coordination center that provides 60 days of home monitoring to Medical Center patients recently discharged with chronic conditions such as heart failure, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

The program aims to prevent patients from being readmitted to the hospital. The program’s initial results are promising; 9 percent of patients in the program have been readmitted, compared with a historical readmission rate of 15 percent among these groups of patients.

“We are very optimistic that we will set the bar in being progressive in managing avoidable readmissions,” said R. Edward Howell, the Medical Center’s vice president and CEO.

Dr. Nancy Dunlap, dean of the School of Medicine, highlighted the efforts of faculty members to deal with cuts in federal research funding related to sequestration. While National Institutes of Health grants to U.Va. Medical School researchers declined 14 percent in the fiscal year that ended in June, she said, researchers earning non-NIH grants made up much of that funding gap. The School of Medicine is continuing to work on plans to stabilize long-term resources for researchers, she said. 

In addition to new programs and initiatives, changes are also affecting the Health System’s leadership. The board recognized Dr. Jonathon Truwit, who will be stepping down as chief medical officer and senior associate dean for clinical affairs in January. Truwit is joining Froedtert Health System and the Medical College of Wisconsin as their enterprise chief medical officer and senior administrative dean.

Howell praised Truwit as a national leader among chief medical officers and for his work to provide better access to care and better coordinate care for patients. “His tenacity and creativity are legendary,” Howell said. “Please know you’ll be truly missed.”

Medical Center Operating Board co-chair Dr. Edward D. Miller recognized the service of Howell, who announced in October that he will retire in July after serving as CEO for more than 12 years. Miller thanked Howell for his work to strengthen the Medical Center’s finances, patient safety and patient satisfaction.

“This institution is incredibly strong because of you,” Miller said.

A national search is being launched for Howell’s replacement.   

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