September 2, 2016
Volume 60, Issue 35

WI Health System-Employer Partnerships Make Health Care More Accessible
New WHA/WisEye video highlights how employers and health care providers are working to make Wisconsin a healthier state

Wisconsin hospitals and health systems are partnering with local employers to make health care more accessible and convenient for employees, with an even bigger goal in mind: creating healthier communities.

Thousands of Wisconsin employers are working with their local health systems on wellness and health-related programs and activities that range from adding on- or near-site medical clinics, to bringing in nurses and health coaches to conduct health risk assessments or design and staff employee wellness classes and fitness programs. 

“As employers compete to attract and retain valuable talent in their workforce, they have found wellness programs are a key recruitment tool,” according to Wisconsin Hospital Association President/CEO Eric Borgerding. “Wisconsin health systems have the clinical expertise and great depth of knowledge in prevention to help employers design wellness programs and run on-site clinics that meet the needs of their employees, while helping to moderate health care costs.” 

There are many notable and successful employer-health system partnerships statewide, but a new video produced by WHA and Wisconsin Eye, “A Partnership of Wellness,” features a unique partnership between Vernon Memorial Healthcare (VMH) in Viroqua and Organic Valley, an independent cooperative of organic farmers based in La Farge, Wisconsin. 

While the towns are small, the partnership they have fostered over the past decade has had outsized benefits to both organizations. Each is committed to the other’s success, and they understand the importance of working together to improve the health of not only their employees, but all local residents. 

Kyle Bakkum, CEO of Vernon Memorial Healthcare (VMH) says the partnership has had benefits for both organizations.

“By interacting with the staff of Organic Valley, many of their employees are now aware of the health care services that are available in their own backyard here at the hospital in Viroqua and at the clinic in La Farge,” Bakkum said. 

Amber Wendorf, Organic Valley’s wellness program manager, said the benefits of the relationship they have with their local health system reach far beyond the campus of her organization. 

“Working together with VMH, we can improve the community’s health and that helps with our recruitment and retention efforts,” Wendorf said. “We hire employees who follow our mission. They care about the health of the environment, their own health, and the food they eat. We need to provide them with those same opportunities when they come to work. While it’s great to have those opportunities here on site, it is one thing to be healthy eight hours a day, but then go home and fall into those unhealthy habits.”

More than 70 percent of Organic Valley’s employees participate in the company’s wellness program. 

“We have seen a decrease in smoking, a drop in the number of employees who were diabetic, and a big increase in attendance in our wellness classes,” Wendorf said.

Borgerding said those are the kind of results that employers and health care organizations are hoping to achieve.

“Hospitals and health systems are contributing to the economic strength of our employers by providing clinical and wellness services, helping their employees take control of their health, and making health care accessible in even some of our smallest communities,” according to Borgerding. “Wisconsin has a reputation for delivering high-quality, high-value health care. Our goal is become equally well-known as a state where we are all working together to build healthier communities.” 

“A Partnership of Wellness” is the second program in a series produced by WHA and WisconsinEye dedicated to building awareness of Wisconsin’s high-quality, high-value health care. 

Watch the video at


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WHA Courtroom Advocacy: Court Refuses to Extend State Right to Sue in Medical Records Case…
…But Federal HIPAA law continues to regulate disclosures and uses of health care information

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District III, on August 30 rejected the plaintiff’s argument in Wall v. Pahl that would have extended Wisconsin’s 36-year-old health care records to permit civil damages suits not just for when a health care employee impermissibly discloses a health care record, but also for when a health care employee accesses, but does not disclose, a health care record without authorization. 

Importantly, the Court recognized that while Wisconsin does not permit private suits for unauthorized access alone, federal HIPAA law does govern both disclosures and internal use of protected health information which includes civil and criminal penalties for violations.

WHA submitted a “friend of the court” brief in this case after receiving an invitation from the Court to participate as amicus curiae to provide additional briefing on Wisconsin’s health care records statute. 

“WHA was pleased and honored by the invitation of the Court to provide additional briefing on Wisconsin’s medical records laws to help the Court work through the issues in the case and ultimately develop a well-informed decision,” said Matthew Stanford, WHA general counsel.

In its brief, written by attorney James Friedman at Godfrey & Kahn, WHA argued that HIPAA’s detailed regulation and civil and criminal penalties for improper use of health care information negates the need for Wisconsin to also regulate internal “use” of patient health care records. Further, WHA argued that the Legislature, like Congress, wisely recognized that civil lawsuits were not the appropriate means to regulate the internal use of health care records.

The Court agreed with WHA. “Although we recognize [the plaintiff’s] concern about health organizations’ employees accessing patient records for illegitimate reasons, contrary to [the plaintiff’s] assertion, our opinion in this case does not give those employees carte blanche to access patient records for nefarious purposes without consequence….Internal use of protected health information is, however, extensively regulated by HIPAA which sets forth civil and criminal penalties for violations. Simply put, [the plaintiff’s] interpretation would ‘place too unreasonable a burden’ on health care organizations and their employees.”

“WHA’s robust advocacy work on behalf of our members takes many forms and takes place in many forums,” said WHA President/CEO Eric Borgerding. “Our work is not limited to what happens in the state capitol, nor solely focused on the development, enactment and implementation of state or federal laws. Our advocacy also extends to the courtroom where those laws are interpreted and applied. The outcome of a case like this that could have statewide implications is a good example of why courtroom advocacy is an important part of WHA’s overall advocacy package.”

The Court’s decision in Wall v. Pahl can be found at WHA’s brief can be found at:

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WHA’s Emerging Leaders Conference, Nov. 16 to Focus on Consumer Perspective, Patient Experience

Wisconsin is home to some of the most notable health care leaders in the country, so it is not a surprise that some of the most innovative ideas in the industry are launched in the Badger State. WHA is committed to continuing this tradition by helping foster the next generation of leaders.

In partnership with the Wisconsin Forum for Healthcare Strategy (WFHS), WHA is pleased to offer a one-day event November 12, titled “Today’s Challenges, Tomorrow’s Opportunities: A Future Leader’s Guide to Wisconsin Health Care.” Overall, the event will focus on the role the next generation of health care leaders will play in effectively addressing current health care trends.

The day’s agenda will feature national health care consumerism expert Ryan Donohue of National Research Corporation. Donohue will explore how consumer decision making has become a strategic threat to health care organizations and explain how that research shows what is important to today’s health care consumer. National patient experience expert Kristin Baird will focus on what future leaders can do to improve their organization’s patient experiences and bridge the gap between consumers and hospitals/health care systems.

WHA President/CEO Eric Borgerding will examine the current state of health care in Wisconsin, share thoughts on the possible impact of the new presidential administration on health care, and discuss the Association’s role in shaping public policy on behalf of our members. Seth Teigen, FACHE, regional vice president of ancillary services for SSM Health Care of Wisconsin and president of the Wisconsin Chapter of ACHE Board of Directors, will discuss the importance of emerging leaders advocating on behalf of Wisconsin health care providers.

This event, scheduled November 16 at Marriott Madison West Hotel in Middleton, is part of a leadership development series co-sponsored by WHA and WFHS. Executive and mid-level leaders, directors and managers—those who are the next generation of administrative leaders in Wisconsin hospitals and health systems—are encouraged to attend. CEOs are invited to identify several ‘rising stars’ in their own organizations and encourage them to attend.

Through the generous support of WFHS, a discounted registration fee is available. The full event agenda and online registration are available at An event brochure is included in this week’s packet as well.

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WHA Presents Sepsis Improvement on CDC National Call

Kelly Court, WHA chief quality officer, presented Wisconsin hospitals’ work to reduce sepsis mortality on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Vital Signs Town Hall call August 30. This month’s call follows the release of CDC’s Vital Signs report focused on sepsis. Court, along with presenters from Ohio and New York, shared the efforts taking place in three states with over 450 call participants. 

Over 85 Wisconsin hospitals have worked with WHA in the Partners for Patients project to reduce sepsis mortality by 20 percent. Hospitals working with WHA are focusing on risk awareness, early detection and aggressive treatment. However, sepsis mortality improvement goes far beyond the evidence-based work. Incorporating the patient and family voice can help motivate large-scale change and improvement. Putting a face on sepsis mortality helps all providers know this serious disease is not limited to the frail and elderly. Court shared how WHA created a partnership with a mother whose daughter, Katie, died of sepsis at the age of 26. The ability to bring forward the true impact that sepsis has on patients and families is a foundational component for WHA’s work. The name of the sepsis initiative is “Think Katie First” so the life of a patient is remembered, and attached, to this important work.

“Katie’s mom contacts me on a regular basis to check on our progress,” says Court. “She is a good reminder that this work is not about moving a number, it is about preventing the death of loved ones. While we have made good progress, we still have work to do to make sure every hospital is using the evidenced-based care every time for every patient, and we have eliminated every preventable death.”

The transcript and audio recording of the Town Hall Series can be found at

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WHA Education: Health Care Administrative Professionals Conference, Oct. 13

WHA’s annual one-day conference for hospital executive assistants and other health care administrative support staff will be October 13 at the Glacier Canyon Lodge at The Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells.

This program is a full day of tips and tricks to better utilize Microsoft Office tools. This conference will focus on ways to use Microsoft Outlook, Word and Excel more efficiently and effectively. The program is designed for executive and administrative assistants, business office managers, and other support staff in hospitals and other health care settings. You can see additional conference details and register online for this event at

Pass the above link on to the valued administrative support professionals in departments throughout your organization. For questions, contact Sherry Collins at 608-274-1820 or

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Fast Facts from the WHA Information Center: September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men, after skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, there are more than two million men in the U.S. who count themselves as prostate cancer survivors. 

Data from the WHA Information Center collected in 2015 showed there were 1,567 inpatient stays for prostate cancer in Wisconsin and 35,414 outpatient visits, which included outpatient surgery, emergency room, observation and ancillary services over the same time period. 

For more information on prostate cancer, visit:

Data provided by the WHA Information Center (WHAIC). WHAIC is dedicated to collecting, analyzing and disseminating complete, accurate and timely data and reports about charges, utilization, quality and efficiency provided by Wisconsin hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers and other health care providers.

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Grassroots Spotlight: Lt. Gov. Kleefisch Visits Southwest Health Center

Southwest Health Center in Platteville hosted Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch August 24, 2016. During her time at the facility, she met with hospital leaders and board members to discuss health care issues. Kleefisch toured the new Center for Cancer Care and met with staff. As a cancer survivor, the Lt. Governor makes a point of visiting with staff and patients in cancer centers across the state whenever possible. 

She also toured the medical imaging department and discussed the benefits of 3D mammography equipment and was able to chat with a patient. Kleefisch rounded out her visit by touring the emergency room where she met with staff, including Mitch Lewis, MD, and the Director of EMS, Brian Allen, MS, NRP. 

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Grassroots Spotlight: Sen. Vinehout Meets with WHA Western Region Leaders

State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout met with hospital and health system leaders from across western Wisconsin August 30 during a HEAT Roundtable to talk about the state budget and Wisconsin’s Medicaid program. Vinehout provided an extensive briefing to WHA members about the history of Wisconsin’s health care budget and also discussed the results of an audit done of the Medicaid program by Wisconsin’s Legislative Audit Bureau. 

 Vinehout encouraged WHA members to be constantly engaged with their local elected officials. She said that hospital leaders need to do “anything you can do to make health care a priority with your state legislators.” 

Vinehout also recounted her experience meeting with a group of hospital supporters during WHA’s recent Advocacy Day. Vinehout said that her WHA Advocacy Day meeting allowed her the opportunity to hear a number of very positive stories on how hospitals are making a difference in the communities in her district.

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