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Illinois hospitals shift to consumer convenience

Published: Saturday, March 22, 2014 11:15 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, March 22, 2014 11:16 p.m. CDT
Caption
(AP photo)
Leaders at Chicago's Swedish Covenant Hospital (seen above) hope to open up to five urgent care and primary care centers next year. Illinois hospitals are extending services beyond their walls in a twin bid to improve health and capture more business.

CHICAGO – In cities and rural areas throughout Illinois, hospitals are extending services beyond their walls in a twin bid to improve health and capture more business.

With “consumer convenience” and “retail approach” the new buzzwords, hospitals are branching out. Fitness centers, urgent care clinics and dental practices run by hospitals are no longer unusual ventures.

A new report details the changing health care landscape, finding two out of five Illinois hospitals operate freestanding outpatient clinics and one in three run fitness centers. The trend began years ago and got a boost from the nation’s new health care law, which provides financial incentives to hospitals that keep large populations healthy – and penalties to those that fail.

In Jerseyville, 80-year-old retiree Margie Meuth drives a mile to exercise at Jersey Community Hospital’s fitness center. When the $3 million center was built 15 years ago, it was a bold move for the Illinois hospital serving a rural area an hour north of St. Louis. Now, executives from other hospitals seek Jersey’s advice about opening their own fitness facilities where future patients can lift weights, swim laps and do aerobics.

“The center has really helped keep me active,” said Meuth, who takes a dance-fitness class for seniors. “I’ve met a lot of good friends out there that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”

The Illinois Hospital Association report finds that hospitals contribute $83.4 billion to the state’s economy in direct and indirect spending. In nearly half the state’s counties, hospitals are among the top three employers, writing paychecks to the equivalent of 200,226 full-time workers and indirectly spurring employment for another 250,000 workers.

The association shared the report with The Associated Press ahead of its official release on Monday. The report calculated hospitals’ economic benefit using a system developed by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The report lists services provided in 2012 by hospitals or through a hospital’s joint venture:

• 53 percent of Illinois hospitals provided hospice services.

• 41 percent provided ambulance services.

• 41 percent provided freestanding outpatient care.

• 35 percent provided home health care.

• 34 percent operated fitness centers.

• 33 percent provided dentistry.

Inpatient revenue, or dollars earned from hospital stays, is declining as a percentage of hospitals’ total revenue with outpatient services bringing in a bigger portion of the total. Last year, less than half of Advocate Health Care’s revenue came from inpatient care, said Scott Powder, Advocate senior vice president and chief strategy officer.

With 12 hospitals in the Chicago area, Advocate Health Care is partnering with retail pharmacies, keeping medical offices open nights and weekends and delivering more care in patients’ homes, even chemotherapy, Powder said.

“All the stuff outside of the hospital is up,” Powder said. “The change is fairly substantial and our expectation is that it’s only going to continue for the foreseeable future.”

On Chicago’s North Side, leaders at Swedish Covenant Hospital are pursuing a retail approach, aiming to open four to five urgent care and primary care centers next year. The hospital recently invested $350,000 to launch a new medical office in a senior living residential tower several miles from its campus.

“The growth strategy is to focus on bringing services closer to the patient, closer to the consumer,” said Swedish Covenant Hospital CEO Mark Newton. Instead of “patients coming to us, we need to go to the patient.”

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Associated Press Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/CarlaKJohnson

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