May 31, 2013
Volume 57, Issue 22

Budget Committee Approves Walker’s GME Initiative, Makes WHA Proposed Changes

The state’s budget-writing Joint Committee on Finance approved a plan by Governor Scott Walker to provide $5 million in state funds for graduate medical education (GME) initiatives in Wisconsin. The proposal, which was initially introduced by Walker, would provide significant funding for the development of new residency programs through GME consortia as well as additional dollars for specific high-need residency areas like psychiatry and internal medicine.

After hearing from member hospitals and health systems, WHA worked with the budget-writing committee to amend the bill by shifting a portion of funding earmarked for consortiums to the specific high-need residency funding pool. WHA also worked to lift the initially proposed $50,000 per hospital cap and replaced it with a $75,000 per residency slot cap, which allows a hospital or residency program to potentially receive multiple grants. Over the two-year budget cycle, nearly $1.5 million will be available just for these specific high-need residency grants. During the same period, $3.5 million will be available to develop new residency programs through GME consortia.

"We applaud the Joint Finance Committee for maintaining this important investment in graduate medical education," said WHA Executive Vice President Eric Borgerding. "With this commitment, Wisconsin is taking an important step forward to compete with other states in providing residency opportunities. Our data shows that if someone attends medical school in Wisconsin and completes their residency here, there is an 86 percent chance they will stay in this state. This investment will produce real, tangible results for addressing the need in our physician workforce."

The Joint Finance Committee was briefed through a budget paper written by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, who used data from WHA’s "100 New Physicians a Year" report. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau, which is a highly-respected legislative service agency, said the following:

"…Wisconsin Hospital Association recently analyzed the supply of, and demand for, physicians in Wisconsin based on a number of factors, including service utilization by provider type and demographic changes. That analysis suggested several scenarios, including a "middle estimate" of a 2,200 physician shortage by 2030, including a 1,800 physician shortage in the primary care field … the report illustrates the anticipated difficulty of finding sufficient provider supply to meet increased service demand."

The budget’s investment in GME is part of a broader package to enhance medical training in Wisconsin. Earlier, the Joint Committee on Finance required the UW System to allocate an additional $3 million to the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine (WARM) and Training in Urban Medicine and Public Health (TRIUMPH) programs. Also, the Joint Committee on Finance approved additional funding on May 30 for the family medicine residency training program through the Medical College of Wisconsin.

After the Joint Committee on Finance finishes its action this upcoming week on the budget bill, the bill will then move to the State Assembly, State Senate and finally back to the Governor’s desk for his approval.

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Wisconsin Hospitals Reduce Central-Line Infections

A May 21 article in the Journal Sentinel by reporter Guy Boulton focused on the tremendous progress that Wisconsin hospitals are making to reduce some of the most dangerous, and expensive, health care-associated infections. The data in the article came from a report released by the Wisconsin Division of Public Health; however, it is important to note that Wisconsin hospitals share central line associated infection (CLABSI) data through WHA’s hospital public reporting program, CheckPoint. Additional infection information, including urinary catheter-associated infections and surgical site infections, will be added later this year. View infection data here: See the WHA/DHS news release at:

The following article is reprinted with permission from the Journal Sentinel.

Painstaking work by Wisconsin hospitals in recent years has sharply lowered the occurrence of one of the most deadly types of infections: those from central lines used to deliver fluids, medication and blood to patients.

Infections in intensive care units from central lines—tubes placed in a large vein in a patient’s neck, chest or arm—were 56% lower last year than a national baseline established in 2008, according to a report by the Wisconsin Division of Public Health.

That progress—which included a 21% reduction from 2011—has stemmed from a series of initiatives since 2009 by the Wisconsin Hospital Association, as well as from projects by individual hospitals.

"In 2011, we really started seeing some dramatic decreases," said Kelly Court, chief quality officer for the Wisconsin Hospital Association.

"We are not just preventing infections," Court said. "We are saving lives." That’s because for every 10 patients with a central line infection, one or two will die.

The work has been spurred in part by Medicare’s publicly disclosing the infection rates at individual hospitals.

"There is a reputation cost for hospitals," said Clifford McDonald, a physician and medical epidemiologist with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now that same scrutiny is being directed to two other types of healthcare-associated infections:

Hospitals began reporting their rates for the two infections to the CDC this year. The information won’t be public until next year.

Acute-care hospitals must report their infection rates to the CDC or receive lower payments from Medicare. Hospitals with fewer than 25 beds are exempt.

In addition to infection rates from central lines, rates for urinary tract infections associated with catheters and surgical site infections for colon surgery and abdominal hysterectomy by hospital are publicly available on Medicare’s Hospital Compare website.

Wisconsin hospitals also have reduced the occurrence of infections from urinary tract infections, compared with the national baseline. These infections are more common but less deadly than central line infections.

Their performance on the two measures for surgical site infections is mixed, according to the report by the Wisconsin Division of Public Health. The infection rates for colon surgery are lower than the national baseline but higher for abdominal hysterectomy.

Many hospitals also have begun voluntarily giving the state information on their infection rates for hip and knee replacement surgery.

That information is not publicly available by hospital. But the Wisconsin hospitals reporting their infection rates—roughly a third of the hospitals that do the surgeries—overall had a lower rate for knee surgery and a higher rate for hip replacement surgery than the national benchmark, according to the state report.

The goal is to see how they compare to other hospitals, said Gwen Borlaug, coordinator of the health care-associated infection prevention program for the Division of Public Health.

Reducing infections

The chances of getting an infection while hospitalized can be less than 1 in 2,000 at many hospitals. But the infections can be deadly, particularly for those from central lines.

For that reason, hospitals made reducing those infections a priority. That requires adhering to precise procedures with unfailing consistency.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association program is largely based on the Comprehensive Unit-Based Safety Program, a checklist of sorts developed by Peter Pronovost, a physician and professor at Johns Hopkins Medicine, who showed that infections could be reduced to almost zero by meticulously following standardized procedures.

"There are a few key things you have to do every time," Court said.

That takes work.

Emphasizing hand-washing—one of the basics in preventing infections—sounds simple. But it means that a nurse must wash hundreds of times a day.

To bring a pitcher of water to a patient, a nurse must wash his or her hands before picking up the pitcher—and then again when leaving the patient’s room, Court said.

Court cited Aurora Health Care as a health system that has made impressive progress in reducing infections.

In the fourth quarter of last year, Aurora did not have a central-line infection in any of the 14 intensive care units at its hospitals, said Kathy Leonhardt, a physician and vice president of patient experience and patient safety.

The health system has participated in a number of programs to reduce infections and standardize its procedures. But Leonhardt, too, said that the real challenge is creating the right culture within a hospital.

The underlying complexity of the statistics on infection rates prevents state comparisons. But McDonald of the CDC said that Wisconsin’s rate of central-line infections and its progress against the national benchmark make it one of the better-performing states.

Wisconsin and other states are making slower headway in reducing infections from urinary catheters.

"We are making progress," McDonald said. "In some areas, we are making less progress than we would like."

Now the focus will include reducing infections from MRSA and c. diff. Both could be challenging. Infections from c. diff, which causes diarrhea, continue to increase.

"We have a lot that works," McDonald said. "We have a lot that could work that hasn’t been implemented yet."

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Assembly Health Committee Hears "Apology Bill"

Representative Erik Severson, MD (R-Star Prairie), chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, held a hearing May 29 on the "Apology Bill" (Assembly Bill 120) that would allow a health care provider to express an apology, condolence or sympathy to a patient or patient’s family without those statements being used as evidence against the provider. Severson is the author of this legislation in the state Assembly.

When a health care outcome is not what was planned or expected, a heartfelt statement of concern or apology can be very helpful for all involved. However, in Wisconsin, those statements can be used as evidence in a lawsuit, making health care providers and administrators less willing to communicate with patients and families at times when communication is crucial.

"The real goal with this is to increase the doctor-patient conversations and discussions about their health care," said Severson, an emergency department physician at Osceola Medical Center.

"Unfortunately, statements expressing apology or condolence are often not made because of the provider’s concern that those words will be used against the provider in a medical malpractice action," said Charles Shabino, MD, WHA senior medical advisor, in written testimony to the Committee. "This bill would encourage open conversations among providers, patients, and families, encouraging a better resolution of unfortunate events. Statements of concern by all providers involved in patient care can allow the patient, family and provider to move toward a solution and resolution."

The Committee can now take executive action on the bill to recommend its adoption by the full state Assembly.

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Wisconsin Rural Health Conference, June 26-28: Register Today
Hotel reservation deadline is June 5

Register today to join your colleagues at the 2013 Wisconsin Rural Health Conference June 26-28, which has become the premier statewide forum for examining issues that impact rural hospitals. As a reminder, hotel reservations must be made by June 5 to ensure a reservation and to receive the special conference group rate. Due to other events at the Kalahari Resort, it is very likely that no hotel rooms will be available to conference attendees after that date. It is recommended that you make your hotel reservations immediately if you plan to attend.

This year’s conference will include an outstanding opening keynote session by Todd Linden; the ever-popular state of Wisconsin health care session presented by Executive Director Tim Size of the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative and WHA President Steve Brenton; and an inspirational closing session by Quint Studer.

The annual Wisconsin Rural Health Conference is a great way for hospital executives, leadership staff and trustees to examine the issues that impact small and rural hospitals, while networking and collaborating with colleagues and each other. Register by June 14, and make your hotel reservations as soon as possible at the Kalahari but before the deadline date of June 5.

Online registration and full conference information are available at

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President’s Column: Clock Ticking on Wisconsin State Budget....WHA Priorities at Stake

In a matter of days, the Joint Finance Committee will conclude its work on the Biennial Budget Bill. Speculation is that the Assembly and Senate will largely go along with the Finance Committee version so most of the heavy lifting has focused on that group’s efforts.

To date:

  1. The emerging bill includes a WHA-originated package of physician workforce funding initiatives that is mostly unchanged from Governor Walker’s original proposals.

  2. Consistent with solutions identified in WHA’s "100 New Physicians a Year" report, the new money is aimed at building graduate medical education (residency) infrastructure. About $5 million will be made available over the next two years to jump start needed investments in primary care residencies.

  3. The Wisconsin Health Information Organization (WHIO) will receive $5 million to advance the public reporting of care provided in Wisconsin clinics. The money will be used to incorporate Medicare claims data into the current WHIO data repository and push out information that will engage consumers in their health care decisions.
  4. The new WHIO initiative is a welcome addition to the public reporting space long occupied by WHA’s CheckPoint and the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality. The initiative also aligns with WHA’s strategic plan (focus on transparency and consumer engagement) and our commitment to help build a high-value delivery system.

  5. Next week we expect final decisions on Medicaid. WHA has been unequivocal in our support for full Medicaid expansion. Governor Walker’s position may have long-term merit, but the uncertainty of the insurance exchange presents a too-risky dynamic for almost 90,000 Medicaid enrollees who may lose coverage in a handful of months.

If we come up short in prevailing on full expansion, then the establishment of a trigger that can delay transition of the current Medicaid population to the exchange based on known and measurable factors must be part of the final package. And we must recognize the potential for an anticipated uptick in ED usage by newly uninsured and contemplate ways to cushion an increase in already rising uncompensated care.

Steve Brenton

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Oklahoma Hospital Employee Relief Fund Established

The Oklahoma Hospital Association has established the "Oklahoma Hospital Employee Relief Fund" through the Communities Foundation of Oklahoma (a 501(c)3 organization) to assist hospital employees who suffered major loss from the recent tornadoes in central Oklahoma. Any interested individual or organization interested in contributing to this fund should send their check made payable to OK Hospital Employee Relief Fund – CFO in care of the Oklahoma Hospital Association, 4000 Lincoln Blvd, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105.

Although initially established to assist employees (employed by a licensed hospital in Oklahoma) who suffered major loss from the recent tornadoes in central Oklahoma, the fund will remain as a means for helping future hospital employees who incur unexpected, major needs.

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"Members Only" Portal on
Quality and finance reports available on secure website

As a service to our members, WHA creates and distributes a number of hospital-specific custom reports and data analyses to our members that were sent directly from WHA staff through our email system. While this distribution system was secure, it was cumbersome to administer, and it didn’t allow other employees to easily access all the reports in a convenient location at a later date.

Earlier this month, WHA launched the new "members only" section of WHA’s website,, and all the facility-specific custom quality and finance reports created by WHA are now available there. This new portal is a valuable WHA member benefit because it provides a convenient way for members to access facility-specific information, reports and analyses prepared by WHA staff. Note that the WHA Information Center will continue to distribute reports and data sets from their secure portal.

To register for access to this members’ portal, go to Your request will be processed by WHA staff, and you will receive a confirmation email when your request has been approved. If you are with a health system and you need access to reports from several hospitals, register on the site for one of the hospitals you need and then contact Tammy Hribar, and let her know what other hospitals you need added.

The WHA members only section can be accessed at any time by clicking on the Data navigation tab at, then click the "members only" icon.

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Proposed Rule Defining Unprofessional Conduct for Physicians Submitted to Legislature

The Assembly and Senate Health Committees have received for review the Medical Examining Board’s (MEB) proposed revisions to the administrative rule defining unprofessional conduct for physicians. While a thorough review of the proposed rule has not been completed, it appears the proposed rule submitted to the Legislature does not reflect final action taken by the MEB.

The Committees’ review periods last for 30 days. A committee’s review period is extended for an additional 30 days if the committee takes either of the following actions: (1) requests in writing that the agency meet with the committee to review the proposed rule; or (2) publishes or posts notice that the committee will hold a meeting or hearing to review the proposed rule. An agency may submit germane modifications to the committees during the review period. Such a submittal may extend the committee review periods.

A copy of the proposed rule is available at:

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Russell Re-appointed to HIRSP Board; Named Vice Chair

The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services has confirmed the reappointment of John Russell, CEO of Columbus Community Hospital, to the Health Insurance Risk-Sharing Plan Authority (HIRSP). He will now serve as the vice chair of the Board of Directors, for the term ending May 1, 2014. As reported in the May 24 Valued Voice, the HIRSP program is expected to sunset on December 31, 2013. Russell has served on the HIRSP Board since April 2012 as chair of the Finance Committee, and will continue that role until his term ends. His expertise will be important for HIRSP during the program’s final closeout.

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Member Forum on Wisconsin Health Exchange to Feature WHA’s Joanne Alig

WHA is offering a member forum on June 13, which will be repeated June18, focused on Wisconsin’s health insurance exchange. Joanne Alig, WHA senior vice president of policy and research, has emerged as one of the most knowledgeable sources in the state on the impact and implementation of the exchange in Wisconsin. Alig will share a high-level update focused on key implementation timeframes and the most significant outstanding issues with the exchange. She will review the role of navigators and other assisters, clarify the current federal regulations, share recent developments for state licensure and registration, and discuss how hospitals fit into this process.

Alig develops and directs policy strategies, analyses, proposals and responses for WHA on a variety of hospital payment issues, including government and commercial reimbursement, health care reform, the Medicaid program and state budgets.

CEOs, COOs, CFOs, financial counselors and billing/collection managers will benefit most from participation; however, make others in your organization who need to know more about exchange implementation in Wisconsin aware of these webinar dates and how to register. Additional webinars on this topic will be available later this summer and fall and will include more detailed information as it becomes available.

There is no cost to participate in this member forum, but pre-registration is required. Register at Registration is limited for the June 13 offering; however, there are still connections available for the June 18 offering. Also, if you cannot participate in one of the live webinars, there is an option to request an audio recording.

If you have registration questions, contact Lisa at

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WHA Quality Staff Visits Memorial Medical Center (Neillsville)

Memorial Medical Center in Neillsville is proud of the work they are doing to improve the quality of care in their hospital. During a recent visit to Memorial Medical Center, Tom Kaster, WHA quality coordinator, met with the staff and discussed their progress as active participants in the WHA Partners for Patients (PfP) Collaborative. Neillsville is focusing their efforts on three PfP topics, which include: Readmissions, led by Care Coordinator Gina Fellenz; Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections (CAUTI), lead by Infection Control Specialist Marilyn King, and Eliminating Early Elective Deliveries prior to 39 weeks, lead by Med-Surg/OB Coordinator Lori Gregorich. All of Neillsville’s improvement efforts are coordinated by QI and Compliance Officer Sarah Trunkel.

"I am always amazed at the agility for rapid improvement that Wisconsin’s critical access hospitals are able to demonstrate," said Kaster. "Memorial Medical Center in Neillsville has accomplished some outstanding results and has the data to back it up."

Neillsville has not had a CAUTI in 2013.

"At first there was a lot of pre-work to do to educate nursing staff as well as physicians," according to King. "We also had to work with the ER staff to make sure they understood the evidenced-based protocol of when a Foley catheter is necessary."

Once they had the groundwork in place, King said they immediately saw a significant reduction in unnecessary catheter use and in turn, a decrease in CAUTIs.

Implementing a hard-stop policy on early elective deliveries prior to 39 weeks was another significant achievement for Neillsville. Gregorich assembled a great improvement team, which included physician champion Dr. Amy Schneider.

"Having a physician champion was essential to our success. We relied on Dr. Schneider to bring the policy to her peers and manage any concerns that came up" said Gregorich.

Kaster noted that Neillsville is on the right track for reducing readmissions, as well. They have focused on care coordination strategies by connecting with other facilities and resources in the community. Fellenz has been completing post-discharge phone calls to make sure patients are able to accomplish their care plan at home.

"I can say that we have saved multiple unnecessary readmissions just by contacting patients within three days of discharge" said Fellenz.

When asked to name the most important factors that have contributed to their improvement successes, Trunkel and her improvement team listed three: 1) Staff engagement is extremely important; 2) Physician champions are essential, and 3) WHA’s Partners for Patients initiative provided a framework for improvement and provided support, resources and guidance to the improvement teams.

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Wisconsin’s Health Information Exchange Moves Forward
More than 40 early-adopter organizations create critical mass for WISHIN

A surge of new clients over the past two months for the Wisconsin Statewide Health Information Network (WISHIN) means that electronic health information exchange (HIE) services will soon be widely available across the state.

At the "Forward! Transforming Health IT in Wisconsin" conference held in Madison on May 29, WISHIN recognized the health care organizations who have asked to participate in WISHIN Pulse, WISHIN’s community health record product.

"WISHIN Pulse is designed to ensure that providers can collaborate electronically with counterparts from different systems, even if they use different EHR systems, according to WISHIN CEO Joe Kachelski. "WISHIN Pulse makes medical records portable, following patients wherever they seek care."

More than 40 organizations have asked to participate, representing hundreds of individual clinics and hospitals in 43 Wisconsin counties.

WISHIN, a not-for-profit organization founded in 2010 by WHA, the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality (WCHQ) and the Wisconsin Health Information Organization (WHIO), exists to promote interoperability of Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems, enable Wisconsin providers to meet HIE-related meaningful use criteria, and make the process of sharing patient data among organizations more effective and efficient.

"It is no secret that having the patient’s medical history and record present at your fingertips will allow us to deliver better care," said Steve Little, president and CEO of Agnesian Healthcare, one of WISHIN’s early adopters.

A current list of organizations that have asked to participate may be found at the WISHIN web site: complete list.

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Member News: Aspirus Names Matthew Heywood New President/CEO

Effective July 1, Matthew Heywood will serve as the new president and chief executive officer for Aspirus, Inc. He will replace current president and CEO Duane Erwin, who will retire June 28, 2013.

Heywood has 19 years of health care leadership. He comes from Wilmington, NC, where he most recently served as executive vice president and chief operating officer for New Hanover Health Network since 2008. During this time, Heywood helped guide the non-profit, 855-bed health system through numerous service and efficiency improvement initiatives while strengthening partnerships with a broad range of system partners. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience in driving efficiency and service improvements, building coalitions and implementing strategic plans.

Heywood received an MBA in management from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a bachelor’s degree in government from Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH. He is also a member of the American College of Health Care Executives (ACHE).

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ACHE Northern Getaway Event, July 29-30 in Minocqua

The Wisconsin Chapter of ACHE, along with chapters from Minnesota, Michigan and Canada, have teamed up to bring Wisconsin health care administration leaders and managers the second annual ACHE Northern Getaway, scheduled July 29-30, at The Waters of Minocqua in Minocqua, Wisconsin.

This two-day event offers attendees 12 ACHE Face-to-Face credits via one of two sessions: "Managing Change: Thriving in the 21st Century" offered by ACHE faculty John Sena, PhD; and "Courage to Lead: Critical Skills for Health Care Leaders," offered by ACHE faculty George Masi and Jody Rogers, PhD.

Registration is limited to the first 40 attendees in each two-day session. For full event details, hotel reservation information, or to register online, visit

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Wisconsin Hospitals Community Benefits: Charity Care

Fear of a bill should never prevent a patient from seeking care at a Wisconsin hospital. Wisconsin hospital charity care programs provided $232 million to more than 700 patients each day last year. The stories that follow illustrate the deep commitment and continuing concern that hospitals have to their patients to ensure they receive the care they need regardless of their ability to pay.

When hours matter

He had extreme pain in his backside, blood in his urine, fever, chills and vomiting—all signs of a kidney stone and infection. In some cases, kidney stones can constitute an emergency and even be fatal if not treated aggressively.

Such was the case for a 34 year-old uninsured Hartford man who lives with his parents. Holly, a financial counselor at the Aurora Medical Center in Hartford, received a call from one of the urologists at the Aurora Advanced Health Clinic in Hartford. The doctor asked Holly to assist his patient with an application for Aurora’s Helping Hand financial assistance program so that he could proceed with surgery the next day to a remove the offending kidney stone.

Holly met with the patient on the same day to provide him with the application. "He was very cooperative," Holly reported. "I gave him the application and he returned it to me with the required paperwork within a few hours. His application was expedited and approved for 100 percent coverage. It was a critical situation because a special order had to be placed for the equipment in order for the doctor to perform the surgery the next day."

Aurora Medical Center in Hartford

"I don’t know how to say thank you enough"

For three years, Sandy suffered with diverticulitis. Diverticulitis occurs when the inner lining of the intestine becomes inflamed or infected. More severe cases can lead to significant health problems. While only six percent of patients with diverticulitis have the disease severe enough require surgery, for those patients there are no other options.

During these three years, Sandy managed her disease with antibiotics and lifestyle changes. However, her attacks were becoming more severe, and she feared that she would spend the rest of her life stuck in a cycle of illness.

Sandy consulted with surgeons in Meriter’s Digestive Health Center, and it was determined that her disease was severe enough that it required surgery. After surgery, Sandy felt great. "You don’t realize how sick you are until you’re well," she explains, "I don’t know how to say thank you enough."

Although Sandy was feeling better physically, the financial burden weighed heavy on her mind. She had recently lost her job and was terrified the medical bills would push her into bankruptcy.

"I had no idea how I would ever pay this," Sandy recalls. She felt like she traded the health burden for a financial burden. "My illness prevented me from moving forward, and now I was afraid this bill would do the same. When I was offered financial assistance to forgive my bill, it was a miracle to me."

Meriter Hospital, Madison

Vernon Memorial Healthcare 2012 Community Care Program

Linda was involved in a motorcycle accident that left her injured with a broken back and out of work. She wanted desperately to keep up with her medical bills but found herself struggling financially. Vernon Memorial Healthcare (VMH) patient financial counselors encouraged Linda to complete a Community Care Application. Linda was approved for an 80 percent reduction in her medical bills. She was extremely appreciative and was able to promptly pay the balance of her bill in full. Staff received a thank you card from Linda for telling her about the program.

A Vernon County farm family had major medical bills that kept building. They were struggling financially and were in the process of selling the farm in order to get all of their bills paid. Under Vernon Memorial Healthcare’s Community Care Program, they were approved for a 90 percent reduction in their medical bills which they will now pay off once they sell the rest of their livestock. They were very happy and stopped by the Patient Accounts office to personally thank staff for such a wonderful program.

Vernon Memorial Healthcare ensures that patients are treated with compassion in regard to payment of their bills. VMH provides various levels of financial assistance to those who are unable to pay for health care services. Financial assistance is available to individuals who do not have the ability to pay their full obligation as determined by qualification criteria. The amount of the aid will take into account each individual’s ability to contribute to the cost of his or her care.

Vernon Memorial Healthcare, Viroqua

Grateful for Community Care

Carl and Kate were already struggling with medical bills when Carl’s health took a turn for the worse. Carl was no longer able to maintain his business and had to close it. The couple was familiar with the Community Care program at Community Memorial Hospital in Oconto Falls and had been granted a discount on their accounts. However, even after the discount, they were still facing a sizeable sum.

"Kate called and asked if there was anything that we could do," said patient financial assistance specialist Monica Hatton. "She explained that her husband was no longer able to work anymore due to his health, and they were struggling to make their payments. They were in a situation with multiple medical bills from other providers and not enough money to pay everything."

Monika was glad to help. She advised Kate to update their Community Care application with their current circumstances. "When she hand-delivered it two days later, she gave me a hug and thanked me for taking the time to look at their application again," said Monika.

Monika discovered that their income was reduced by more than half since the time they originally applied for the Community Care discount, and she was able to arrange an additional discount enough to eliminate their outstanding medical bills at Community Memorial Hospital.

"Kate called me when she received the news and was very emotional, thanking me over and over," said Monika. "Two days after that phone call, I came into work to find a large bouquet of flowers on my desk." The message on the card read, "We appreciate what you and your staff have done for us. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Carl & Kate"

Community Memorial Hospital, Oconto Falls

Lowering blood pressure and deleting medical bills

What goes up doesn’t always come down, at least right away. That was the case with Randy Peterson’s blood pressure. The rural Willard man was transferred by ambulance from a local critical access hospital to Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire with dangerously high blood pressure.

"I was admitted directly into Critical Care," says Peterson. "We have insurance but it doesn’t cover hospital stays." After one night, some tests and medications, the physicians and staff were able to get his blood pressure under control and much closer to the normal range. However, this stay left Peterson and his wife, Analee, with an approximately $10,000 bill. "I didn’t know how I was going to pay the bill," says Peterson.

Luckily, for Peterson and others in similar situations, Mayo Clinic Health System offers a financial assistance program. If patients need financial assistance, they can apply for it before or after they receive the services. Many factors are weighed when determining if a patient is eligible for financial assistance, including the patient’s income, assets and needs. Because of a previous injury, Peterson is on disability and lives on a fixed income. Making payments on a large medical bill was not something he would have been able to do.

Mayo Clinic Health System works with patients to help set up affordable payment options or, if a patient qualifies, forgive part or all of a medical bill. That was the case for Peterson when his entire balance was forgiven. "I’ve never even received a bill. I’m very grateful for that."

Becca McHugh, patient financial planning supervisor, explains that patients are not always prepared for a large medical expense. "Paying medical bills can be a challenge if someone has an unexpected health condition and little or no insurance. That’s why we have this program. Our planners work very hard to help patients."

Thanks to medications, Peterson’s blood pressure is now more under control and he’s very grateful for the help, both medically and financially, he has received from Mayo Clinic Health System. "I think everyone there is great. You really have some great people."

Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire

Submit community benefit stories to Mary Kay Grasmick, editor, at

Read more about hospitals connecting with their communities at

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