Author Archives: Linda Hunt

About Linda Hunt

Linda Hunt is president of St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, www.stjosephs-phx.org.

nurses, healthcare, doctors

The State’s Health Care Industry Is Strong, But The Recession Is Taking A Toll

Although I have only been in Arizona 11 years, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center has been providing high-quality care to Valley residents since 1895. And for the past century, St. Joseph’s has been known for two primary missions: Service to the poor and underserved; and outstanding care, particularly in the neurosciences, driven by groundbreaking innovation.

In the past 25 years, the innovations at St. Joseph’s have been significant, and other hospitals in the state have seen significant growth and expansion of services, as well. We have had unprecedented growth in the Metro Phoenix area, and hospitals have tried valiantly to keep up with the demand for acute care services. In the past 25 years, we have seen many new hospitals built, particularly in the suburban areas, and central hospitals have continued to expand.

Arizona was the very last state in the country to adopt a state Medicaid program in the early 1980s, but the Arizona Healthcare Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) has since been considered a national model of cost effectiveness. We missed out on substantial federal funds for the Medicaid system by being the last state to join, but we have nonetheless run an efficient system with the public dollars Arizona has received.

The health care system has continued to evolve in very interesting ways during the past quarter century. We have seen a clear movement to reduce the length of hospital stays, and many procedures are done in outpatient settings that were once only performed in hospitals.

We have made extraordinary progress in diagnostics and minimally-invasive procedures, which help people recover faster and get treated earlier when disease occurs. In a past era, patients who needed lung surgery had to have their ribcage cracked open and had weeks of extended recovery; now they have it laproscopically and are up walking around the very next day. Cancer used to be a death sentence; now it is often a chronic illness that can be virtually cured. We are better at treating chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, and we now know how important prevention is to limiting the impact of disease.

But significant challenges still remain. We have evolved into a system of “sick care” not “health care,” and although we know prevention pays dividends, that is not what physicians and hospitals are reimbursed for. The system rewards us when we treat the sickest patients, but not always for keeping them well.

In America, the concept of employer-sponsored health care is considered foundational to our economy. Yet, more than 46 million Americans do not have health insurance, and many of them are vulnerable children. In Arizona, the majority of employees work for small businesses that are under a tremendous strain to provide affordable health insurance. When people transition to public insurance, the reimbursements are declining so much that community physicians are refusing to accept new Medicaid and Medicare patients, while safety-net hospitals struggle to treat all who present themselves at their doors.

The boom-and-bust cycle is hard on the economy, but it is also hard on health care providers. We face a physician shortage in the Valley and a dearth of key sub-specialists for a region this size. In a recession, more people turn to public assistance at the same time the state is trying to cut budgets to compensate for diminished reserves.

Still, I remain hopeful for our state and our industry. Health care continues to be a strong economic engine for Arizona; good paying jobs, great career paths for a wide variety of disciplines and many avenues for innovation. Catholic Healthcare West, of which St. Joseph’s is the flagship hospital, is actively working with the new president and Congress to help shape health care reform so all Americans can have affordable and accessible health coverage. I believe there has never been a time when so much good is possible, and that change can help all of us live better.