Megan Stromberg / For The Telegram
COLUMBUS — Whether on the giving or receiving end of health care, one thing remains the focus at Columbus Community Hospital — people.
“We have really been focused on changing the organization’s culture. We have great people. They are passionate about providing high-quality health care,” CCH President and CEO Mike Hansen said.
The local hospital's nearly 675 employees work hard to serve the community, Hansen said, while making patient satisfaction a high priority.
“We want to make sure that access to health care is local. Our high-quality staff and health care works hard to meet everybody’s expectations,” he said, adding that the staff’s efforts are complemented by positive community support.
“I’ve been in the health care business for 35 years in hospitals across the country, from small to 1,100-bed hospitals, never have I been in a community that is so supportive of the hospital," Hansen said. "We hear from people who, for the most part, we have exceeded their expectations.”
Other members of the senior leadership team, including Vice President of Physician Relations and Business Development Amy Blaser, said hospital staff always keep patients in mind when making decisions.
“Our commitment is to ensure high-quality, low-cost health care services close to home,” Blaser said.
The commitment is evident in the hospital’s mission, which is “to improve the health of the communities we serve.” Additionally, CCH’s vision is “to compassionately deliver the state’s highest-quality patient care.”
To help further CCH’s overall mission, the “Employer of Choice” campaign was recently implemented.
“Our goal is to empower the staff to make decisions at the bedside,” Vice President of Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer Dorothy Bybee said.
That, according to Bybee, includes looking at such things as “how can we serve the patient better?" and "what can we do different?”
Since moving to Columbus from a hospital in Wichita, Kansas, in the past year, Bybee said she has noticed many positive steps the local facility takes to ensure quality care.
“Our focus is always going to be on the patient, but we also want to make sure our employees' needs are being met,” she said.
Several initiatives are in place to make certain the needs of nursing staff are met, including encouraging employees to further their education, a nurse residency program and focus on patient safety and quality.
“That adds to the value we bring to the patient,” Bybee said. “When we have good outcomes, that helps build pride from our employees and community. If we have happy employees, we will have happy patients.”
Hansen said the hospital adopted three pillars in its quest to become the “premier source of health care in the region.”
The first is to sustain and grow CCH’s core services.
“We have developed the hospital to become a regional-type hospital to fill the gaps that were there before,” he said.
Recruiting quality specialists and physicians has furthered the facility's efforts.
The second pillar is promoting community wellness and prevention efforts.
Instead of being reactive in addressing acute and chronic health problems, Hansen said patients, employers and the community as a whole are better served when lifestyle changes are made. One way wellness has been positively addressed is through the hospital’s Columbus Wellness Center, which also houses the Columbus Family YMCA.
“That has far exceeded our expectations,” Hansen said of the facility’s first 18 months.
A Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) is being offered for hospital employees. Hansen said the hope is to expand that program within the community.
“It provides people with the tools and resources to have a healthier lifestyle,” he said. “When people are healthier, they feel better and are less prone to injury. That’s good for businesses.”
The third pillar in becoming a regional health care facility, according to Hansen, is creating a telemedicine network. That collaboration allows doctors in a number of facilities to better treat patients.
The hope, Hansen said, is to continue expansion of cancer care in the area as well.
“We would like to see a cancer center concept come together,” he said, which would ultimately include a research component to “find out why there is such a high rate of cancer in our area.”
Recruiting quality specialists is one aspect of developing a regional care center. That's something Blaser focuses on. She said physician recruitment is essential for patient care.
“If you have to travel out of town for care, that creates a whole new element. Providing ease of access to care has been our focus and that’s what has driven physician recruitment,” she said.
The hospital collaborates with more than 40 local medical professionals and many visiting physicians.
The local 47-bed facility, located on 80 acres at 4600 38th St., has been recognized nationally for its efforts in delivering high-quality care.
The nation’s largest hospital accreditation agency, The Joint Commission, has presented CCH with its Gold Seal of Approval for “demonstrating continued compliance with its performance standards.” CCH is the state’s only hospital that has been presented the award five consecutive times, according to Vice President of Finance and CFO Chad Van Cleave.
Closer to home, in its annual report, the Nebraska Hospital Association has given CCH “exceeds expectations” ratings in nearly every category.
“We have one of the top-performing hospitals in the state for our size,” Van Cleave said.
In his position as the overseer of the financial aspects of the hospital, Van Cleave said he gets to “report on all of the great things the hospital does,” something he says makes his job easier.
“We’ve had positive results year, after year, after year.”
Van Cleave said keeping patient costs down provides a more-positive experience for both staff and patients. A first step in that equation is keeping the facility debt-free, something that has happened since 2012.
“It allows us to invest in new technology and purchase products that have better outcomes. Then those costs are not passed on to the patient,” he said of keeping the bottom line in the black. “It allows us to invest in our people and ultimately provides better access to care.”
He credits the employees, from doctors, nurses and other caregivers to pharmacy and support staff such as dietary and maintenance workers, with keeping the hospital in prime operating shape.
“We’ve invested in community leaders and have great facilities that far exceed expectations,” he said. “That creates financial success when we have community support for the hospital and can provide quality care.”
Van Cleave said the hospital’s financial stability means steady employment for its labor force.
“They’re going to have a long-term job here,” he said.
Proof of CCH’s low-cost care can be found in a search on the Nebraska Health Association’s website, where patients can compare the cost of various health care procedures across the state.
“We are consistently one of the lowest prices in the state of Nebraska,” Van Cleave said.
That website, www.nhacarecompare.com, allows patients to select hospitals, then choose from a list of procedures to see estimated costs. One example is laparoscopic gall bladder surgery. CCH’s estimated cost is $24,023, while Bryan Medical Center of Lincoln’s estimated average cost is $37,262.
Van Cleave said hospital personnel realize patients face many factors when seeking health care.
“Health care is expensive. We get that. On most cases and most procedures, people will pay less if they come here,” he said. “Our staff treats this like it is their own checkbook. In today’s environment, that is becoming more and more important.”
Additionally, he said CCH treats all payers the same.
“We don’t provide a huge discount for one (insurance) company over another. It’s the patient that’s important,” he said, adding that insurance companies that try to seek exclusive discounted rates with the hospital don’t have much luck.
“We’ve stood strong and said we are not going to give them an additional discount,” he said.
Another way CCH works to keep costs low is by maintaining perspective about which services it can provide, and what should be left to larger hospitals. Also, CCH works to pay cash for big-ticket items, such as MRI machines, offering a bargaining chip in talks with supply companies.
“Our job is to make our patients' lives easier and less-stressful for patient care. Direct patient care is what we try and focus on,” Van Cleave said.
He said hospital leaders work to instill a family-centered mentality across departments.
“It’s big enough, but still small enough that we’re family. We ask, 'How would you want your family to be treated?' That’s who’s walking in the door.”