CEO Series: Linda Hunt
Company: CHW Arizona/St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center
How is St. Joseph’s preparing itself to meet the changes being brought on by national health care reform and the state’s budget crisis?
We’ve been on the ground from the very beginning. Catholic Healthcare West, our parent company, has really been involved with the Obama Administration in looking at different ways to provide health care, and we know that health care has to change. The most important thing for us has been quality — providing the high quality access. We have a lot of people without care or without access to care. So when you look at how do we do that and how do we lower our cost of delivering care, those things have been driving forces for St. Joseph’s and CHW to be intimately involved in what needs to occur.
It’s a tremendous strain if we have the (state) budget cuts that are proposed. About 44 percent of our patients are AHCCCS (Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System ) patients, and this will be anywhere between $25 million to $31 million for just our organization alone that we will see decreased.
We also are part owners of Mercy Care Plan, so for us it’s a real concern. Mercy Care Plan has 386,000 lives, and about 60,000 of those lives (coverage) will be eliminated if the state budget crises and the state waiver go through.
The mass shooting that took place in Tucson really put attention on the work of Level I trauma centers, such as the one at St. Joseph’s. What message has that sent to Legislators and the community?
Tucson was a great example of why Level I trauma centers are needed. It truly is the life-saving component of life care. If we would not have had the hospital in Tucson, if we would not have had the trauma surgeons, the neurosurgeons right there ready, a number of those people would not have survived. I think Gabby Giffords can really say one day, “I owe my life to these people and to the quick response that they had.” We have very limited funding. As you know, it’s not about money coming in from the federal government or the state government for Level I. It’s really thanks to a number of our patients who have insurance and the variety of people who give to us to make sure we can continue to have the resources available to provide that kind of care.
How has St. Joseph’s evolution mirrored that of the state’s health care industry?
When the (Sisters of Mercy) got here in the 1890s, they found a very small community of people who were working here, but also many other people who had come here because they were ill. (The sisters) came here to teach, and all of a sudden they looked around and said, “My gosh, it’s not about teaching. We have to provide health care for these people. They’re dying in the streets.”
So, I feel we are the beginning of health care in this community and have continued for almost 116 years. When you look at the number of firsts that were done at St. Joseph’s, many times we brought health care and progressive health care to this community. When you look at the first residency, the first pharmacy in-house, the first NICU, the first MRI, the first CAT scan … it truly is a jewel to be treasured in this community.
Is health care a cooperative effort in the Valley?
I think we all compete. We are businesses. But I think it’s a camaraderie because we’re all about taking care of people in this community. When you look back, there are a lot of great friendships that you have with the other CEOs. And we do share. We share resources. When we get in trouble as a Level I trauma center, when we’re overwhelmed, everyone pitches in and we fan out patients. We do a number of things together. If we need equipment, we lend it to each other. So in a way we compete, but we are all here to serve this community and I think that is very important.
How does St. Joseph’s work with rural communities?
Look at Children’s Rehabilitative Services, which we have been a partner of the state with in caring for children. We have clinics all over the state. We work with the Indian communities; we work with Flagstaff, Prescott; Yuma and Tucson work together with us. So right there is a perfect example of that collaboration. We have outreach clinics throughout the state, especially in the rural areas. We train residents and new physicians, which we think is a very important part of training the next generation of caregivers. We are training a lot of the physicians that will be practicing in rural Arizona and other rural areas of this country.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix has stripped St. Joseph’s of its Catholic standing. how does that affect the average patient?
If you came into our hospital in early December and you came in today, we would look no different. The one thing we cannot do is Mass in the chapel. We still have worship services, they’re just not Catholic worship services. But we do have rosaries, we have spiritual hours, we have people who are there to allow you to pray and to provide that spiritual comfort, just as we did in the past. … We acknowledge that (Bishop Thomas J. Olmstead) has the authority to no longer designate us a Catholic hospital. We’re all very sad about that. … But we will always take care of people who are here and do what we can do to make sure they are safe, and that they receive the care that they deserve. … it came down to we had to save the life we could and we did.