Marshfield Clinic leaders say lowering cost of care pivotal to community well-being
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — In a conversation with reporters Tuesday night, Marshfield Clinic Executive Director Dr. Narayana Murali and Marshfield Clinic Health System (MCHS) CEO Dr. Susan Turney provided detail on how they believe MCHS’ plans to expand its outpatient services will lead to lower costs for patients.
MCHS believes that it can lower costs by transitioning some services traditionally provided in a hospital setting to its East Wing ambulatory surgery center. Patients who receive care in the ambulatory surgery center will then be able to recover in comfort and recovery suites, which MCHS also asserts will lower cost and improve care. The comfort and recovery suites are in the process of being developed.
“We feel that the community of Marshfield and the surrounding area is really not growing because of the high cost of care.” Murali said. He added that with families experiencing high rates of medical debt, “As an organization that’s a not-for-profit entity that has a mission that is focused primarily on affordability, … lowering the cost of care becomes important.”
In a press release in April, Turney said, “We can transition about 30 percent of procedures performed in a hospital to an outpatient setting, reducing overall cost for patients by cutting the number of hospital stays, which are more expensive.”
Murali said on Tuesday night that the increased focus on outpatient services is important for the community in terms of providing an option that MCHS believes would be lower cost than what is currently provided at Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital. Murali acknowledged this focus does create a competitive dynamic with Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital. Turney said that by transitioning care from a “higher cost to a lower cost facility” savings are passed on to patients via lower health insurance premiums and reduced out of pockets costs.
“Essentially our focus is to take those services that presently have very, very high cost — partly because we have a single community hospital that can dictate the price — to lower that price point to what are averages across the nation and state,” Murali said. He later added, “We are looking at newer ways to provide services at lower costs, which essentially impacts earnings of different organizations.”
Hub City Times has asked Marshfield Clinic for information that would substantiate Murali’s statement that Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital has services that are higher than state and national averages and has yet to get a response. Hub City Times also asked Ministry Health Care for a response to Murali’s statements regarding high cost of care at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, but the organization declined to comment.
Hub City Times independently found information through the Wisconsin Hospital Association Information Center (WHAIC), which uses a tool called PricePoint to provide consumers with basic information on hospital services and charges. Hub City Times found that Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital has the highest average charge for eight of the 10 most common hospitalization services when compared to all other hospitals that provide that same service and were listed in the PricePoint database in Wood, Marathon, Portage, Clark, and Taylor counties. The comparison tool can be found at this link.
WHAIC is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Wisconsin Hospital Association. The WHAIC “has a contract with the department of administration in Wisconsin to be the official collection group of that data,” said Vice President of Communications for the Wisconsin Hospital Association Mary Kay Grasmick.
However, Grasmick said that looking just at the average charge information may not tell the entire story.
“Hospitals aren’t required to post price. They’re required to post charges, and charges are often a point of negotiation between an insurer and a health care entity,” Grasmick said. “The charge that you see there may not be and probably is not the price that you’re going to pay for your (for example) knee surgery.”
She added that these figures also do not include physician charges but only hospital-related charges. “For consumers it’s really important to use this as a starting point, but then there also needs to be a conversation with that insurer to find out, ‘What are my copays? What are my deductibles with this provider?’”
Hub City Times has asked for comment from Ministry Health Care on these findings via the WHAIC but has not yet received a response.
MCHS concerned with staffing level at Ministry, open to further discussions
“We were pleasantly surprised when we heard (Ministry Health Care President and CEO) Dan Neufelder promise that the services that are provided in the hospital in the Marshfield community will remain because over the last few months the staff at the hospital have heard differently, and we’ve been losing staff,” Murali said. He later added, “We are seeing care being moved out of here for lack of support services. We want to make sure that the valued staff that we’ve had a relationship (with) on the hospital side, especially the nurses, … we want to make sure that their jobs are preserved, and we want to accelerate our plans as to what we can provide.”
Neufelder has recently said there is no plan to reduce services at Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital. Ministry Health Care declined to comment in response to Murali’s statement regarding what the staff at Saint Joseph’s Hospital has been told about the level of services that will be provided there.
“Our doctors are worried that they won’t have the facility and the staff in order to provide some of the services in the hospital. For those that can be safely moved to the ambulatory setting, the quicker that we are able to do that the better it will be for us to really take care of patients in a very high quality, very efficient manner,” Turney said.
MCHS, Turney said, is open to discussions with Ministry. Ministry leadership said in a statement on Wednesday, Sept. 9, that it believed — after reading media reports that Marshfield Clinic was accelerating plans for its new hospital — that conversations with Marshfield Clinic were over.
Turney said Marshfield Clinic has not cut off discussions and that regarding Ministry believing the lines of communication were closed, “If that’s the message that’s been delivered, that hasn’t been delivered to us.”
Turney said that Marshfield Clinic has reached out to both Ascension and Ministry to have further discussions. “We will work with them if that’s what they choose,” Turney said.