February 10, 2012
Volume 56, Issue 6

WHA Medicaid Advisory Group Discusses Pay for Performance, Medicaid Reforms, 2013 Rates

On February 9, at its first meeting with the Department of Health Services (DHS) in 2012, the WHA Medicaid Advisory Group discussed the new hospital pay-for-performance measures with DHS staff and obtained new information about the Department’s Medicaid reforms. The group also reviewed the timeline for implementation of a new EAPG system for setting rates, with a plan to freeze rates for the remainder of this calendar year.

Over the past year, WHA staff worked closely with DHS staff after they announced a new hospital pay-for-performance program early in 2011. WHA encouraged DHS to consider the use of nationally-recognized measures, within the hospital’s control, and that would not require added administrative work for hospitals. In addition, WHA urged DHS to provide sufficient advance notice to hospitals. As a result, original plans to implement the program and withhold funds from hospitals in October 2011 were pushed back. The current implementation date is now July 2012, when the Department will begin to withhold 1.5 percent of base fee-for-service rates. A hospital can earn back these funds if they meet certain quality measures.

Raj Kamal, the DHS lead for the pay-for-performance initiative, provided information about the proposed measures and methodology. Of the six measures identified, five were discussed and vetted by WHA’s Quality Measures team and the WHA Medicaid Reengineering Group last year. A sixth measure related to reporting of employee flu vaccines was added by DHS. Although many hospitals currently voluntarily report this measure to the Department, the Medicaid program proposes to collect data not just on direct employees, but on contracted staff as well. DHS requests feedback on the measures and methodology by the end of February.

Brett Davis, the Wisconsin Medicaid Director, provided an update on the status of the maintenance of effort waiver. Davis stated that DHS is not planning to implement an across-the-board reduction in the eligibility income limit for the program. Instead, DHS continues to work with CMS on specific waiver items. Davis said that CMS has officially approved a budget deficit certification that Wisconsin submitted. As a result, DHS plans to implement certain changes to premiums and the affordability test (previously mentioned in the January 6  and the December 16 editions of The Valued Voice). Expected implementation is no earlier than July as DHS continues to work with CMS on the final premium structure and terms and conditions for final waiver approval.

Davis also indicated that work with CMS continues on their proposal to move 260,000 people over to the benchmark plan and to increase cost-sharing for those recipients, including a bump in the copayment emergency room services to $100. Davis noted that CMS has asked a number of questions and noted concerns about the cost-sharing. DHS expects a formal response from CMS next week.

Curtis Cunningham and Krista Willing from the DHS Bureau of Fiscal Services provided the latest hospital assessment reports. Cunningham said that due to lower than expected volume, the full amount of the assessment funding in 2011 was not able to be distributed to hospitals. As a result, hospitals will be receiving an offset to the March assessment invoices for 2012.

In addition, DHS announced that it expects to move to an Enhanced Ambulatory Payment Grouping System (EAPG) Medicaid reimbursement beginning January 2013. As a result, DHS proposes to freeze current hospital inpatient and outpatient rates at fiscal year 2012 levels until the new system is implemented. During the coming year, DHS plans to begin regular calls and meetings with hospitals to discuss the change.

Materials from the February 9 meeting, along with other information about the Medicaid Advisory Group can be found on the WHA website at: www.wha.org/MAG.aspx.

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Obama 2013 Budget Preview: More Medicare, Medicaid Cuts

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that President Obama’s 2013 budget will seek a total of $3 trillion in deficit reduction, including cuts of approximately $320 billion to Medicare and Medicaid. Hospital and other providers will see payment reductions under the proposal.

The 2013 budget proposal is said to mirror much of the President’s deficit reduction proposal from September 2011, which originally laid out a plan to reduce the deficit by $3 trillion over 10 years. Reportedly $1.5 trillion in the 2013 budget proposal will come from various tax increases on the wealthiest Americans and $750,000 billion from war savings. The budget reportedly cuts Medicare by $248 billion and Medicaid by roughly $72 billion.

If the President’s 2013 budget does, in fact, mirror his 2011 deficit reduction proposal, hospitals could be targeted in a variety of ways. Among the hospital cuts included in the President’s September deficit reduction plan are: rolling back Medicaid provider tax thresholds, reducing Medicare bad debt payments, altering Critical Access Hospital designation (based on distance), and cutting teaching hospital payments, among others.

The President is set to release the budget February 13. Watch for more information in the February 17 edition of The Valued Voice. WHA and a delegation of Wisconsin hospital representatives will be in Washington, DC February 15, just two days after the budget’s release, and will be able to discuss any provisions of concern stemming from the budget directly with Wisconsin Members of Congress.

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New Legislator Profile: Rep. Travis Tranel, (R-Cuba City)

A series of interviews with newly-elected legislators, by Mary Kay Grasmick, editor

Representative Travis Tranel arrived in Madison with a farmer’s work ethic and a common sense approach to government. As one of the youngest members of the State Legislature, Tranel brings a fresh point of view to the State Capitol and a determination to make a difference for the people of Wisconsin.

Tranel is very focused on job creation and growing Wisconsin’s economy, and he believes that success will be hinged on doing a better job of explaining to the public what steps are being taken in Madison to move toward that goal and what those efforts mean to the citizens of the state.

"Government can’t create jobs, but we can foster an environment that makes it more attractive for private business to create jobs in our state," Tranel said. "The reality is when we raise the cost of doing business in Wisconsin, we make it less attractive to employ people."

Tranel said the Wisconsin Legislature has made strides toward having policies in place that make it a more desirable place to do business. He cited as an example the tort reforms that were passed early in 2011. However, he doubts that the people of Wisconsin understand how these changes have impacted the business environment.

"We have not done a good job of explaining how these bills have helped create a better business climate in Wisconsin," Tranel said. "As a farmer, I want to know what the rules are and what the costs are going to be when I make decisions affecting my business. Our business ranking went from 48th in the country up to 24th; and that is because we have good policies in place for fostering private sector job growth. Unfortunately, uncertainty also came with that. It’s the uncertainty right now that is killing us."

Tranel sees the biggest job of a legislator as one of being a "good steward of the public’s dollars."

"I want to make sure that business understands that we know in Madison how hard it is for them to make a dollar and that we will make wise use of their tax dollars and not over regulate and over burden them," he explained. "It is our fundamental responsibility going forward that we work in partnership with private business."

The challenge of recruiting physicians to rural areas has some similarities to the issues faced by all industries located in rural areas – one of ensuring the community has an attractive economic, social and economic environment that will draw professionals to locate in it. Having a hospital in the community adds to the entire community’s ability to attract and retain professionals.

"Just as we need to partner with private business, we (in state government) also need to partner with hospitals," said Tranel. "I have a great relationship with the hospitals and health care providers in my area. The hospitals are innovative and are always looking for ways to become more efficient. We are constantly asking hospitals to do more with less. That is a difficult position to be in, and I really appreciate the hospitals in my area for the great work they are doing."

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ICD-10, CoP and Behavioral Health Issues Top WHA MPA Agenda

Presenting at the February 2 meeting of the WHA Medical and Professional Affairs Council, Laura Leitch, WHA senior vice president and general counsel, and Chuck Shabino, MD, WHA senior medical advisor, led a discussion on proposed changes to CMS Conditions of Participation (CoP) related to governance and medical staff. CMS has recognized the current CoPs are more than 25 years old and no longer reflect the current health care environment and new integrated structures. The group discussed and compared the views of the American Hospital Association and WHA with those of the American Medical Association and Wisconsin Medical Society on the following proposed changes:

Many of the Council members have worked through these issues in their organizations. There was consensus that Wisconsin hospitals have addressed these issues in the interest of good patient care and that the proposed changes could be used to increase efficiencies, without compromising care to patients and communities. The final changes should be released in late summer 2012.

Matthew Stanford, WHA’s vice president, policy and regulatory affairs, and associate counsel, briefed the Council on the implementation of the WHA Behavioral Health Task Force’s White Paper recommendations, which is located at www.wha.org/Data/Sites/1/behaviorhealth/wharecommendationsemergencydetention10-4-10.pdf. Highlights of Stanford’s report included an update on the Association’s efforts to:

Stanford said that a goal of the Task Force in 2012 is to continue these implementation efforts and to develop a new White Paper with updated findings and recommendations.

October 1, 2013 continues to be the compliance date set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for ICD-10 implementation. Debbie Rickelman, RHIT, senior director of the WHA Information Center, referred to the January 6, 2012 CMS Transmittal 1013 titled "Contractor Instructions to Implement ICD-10," available at www.cms.gov/transmittals/downloads/R1013OTN.pdf. The transmittal provides instructions to the fiscal intermediaries, carriers, and Medicare Administrative Contractors stating their edits need to be completed by April 1, 2013, and they must be fully ready to implement October 1, 2013.

Rickelman quoted Paul Weygandt, MD, JD, Thomas & Associates, who noted in the ICD-10 Monitor, "Do physicians understand the impact, and can we get them ready? For hospitals to succeed under ICD-10, physician cooperation and collaboration will be essential." She shared several models for educating physicians regarding ICD-10, which included the following components:

"The main point is not to delay in planning for physician education for ICD-10," Rickelman said. "Complete and accurate physician documentation is one of the four cornerstones of a successful ICD-10 implementation along with coder training, financial/revenue cycle preparation, and IT readiness.

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Hearing Held on Lifting Family Care Enrollment Cap

In December 2011, the Walker Administration announced it would lift the enrollment cap in the Family Care program. The cap was implemented as part of the biennial budget bill last year, and was intended to provide program staff an opportunity to determine how to make the program more efficient. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) also weighed in on the issue, directing the state to lift the cap in order to continue to receive federal funding under the program’s approved federal waiver. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has estimated that Wisconsin could risk losing up to $1.75 billion in federal funding if the state does not follow the CMS directive to lift the cap.

On February 6, the Senate Committee on Health held a hearing on SB 380, which would modify the statutory provisions included in the biennial budget bill and authorize the Department to lift the enrollment cap. Some Assembly Republicans, including Joint Finance Committee co-chair, Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), remain concerned about the program’s long-term sustainability if the program is expanded.

Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Kitty Rhoades and DHS Division Administrator Pris Boroniec testified on the initiatives the Department is planning to offset the costs of lifting the enrollment cap. A Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo indicates the cost of lifting the cap to be $71.8 million. DHS maintains that their initiatives will result in savings in the program of at least that amount.

In her testimony, Rhoades noted, "It is our Department’s responsibility to ensure that the benefits Family Care provides are indeed the types of services that are truly needed in providing the right amount of care, at the right place, and at the right time. Ultimately, that is the essence of an efficient and cost-effective long-term care program."

To read the full testimony from the Department of Health Services go to: www.wha.org/Data/Sites/1/medicaid/DHSfamilycareTestimony2-9-12.pdf.

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President’s Column: Hospitals Have Become the Medicare Piñata

Seems like everyone’s favorite way to pay for another temporary fix of the Medicare physician payment (SGR) cut—or—finance a symbolic down payment of the mammoth federal budget deficit is to further whack hospital Medicare payments.

Here’s a brief but incomplete list of individuals and groups who’ve proposed yet another whack to hospitals: MedPAC, President Obama, Congressional Republicans, Congressional Democrats, the Congressional "SUPER" Committee, and the Simpson-Bowles Budget Deficit Commission.

It doesn’t seem to matter that hospitals lose money taking care of the nation’s seniors. Wisconsin PPS hospitals had a -11% margin on Medicare business in FY2009—and that red ink came despite some of the most serious operating expense reductions in recent history. The perception seems to be that hospitals can somehow cost-shift losses to other payers, a dynamic that is no longer possible in today’s health care economy.

Hospitals provided $155 billion to pay for PPACA. That fact has been forgotten or is being ignored by Democrats and has been the subject of ridicule by some Republicans. It is likely that President Obama’s next budget, to be unveiled next week, will propose another $248 billion (over ten years) in cuts to hospitals, drug companies and nursing homes. And in a few days Congressional Republicans will likely support a series of targeted hospital cuts to partially fund another temporary "doc fix."

From a longer term perspective, the Obama Administration suggests turning over the messy task of balancing a Medicare budget to an Independent Payment Advisory Board who’s only available tool to "balance" an annual Medicare budget deficit will be provider payment cuts.

Hospitals are the current Medicare Piñata with few visible champions. Our advocacy message must be constant and loud. Led by AHA and WHA, hospital advocates must continue to voice concerns and reject cuts. And it will be important to identify the consequences of more red ink from our largest payer.

Steve Brenton

Here is a link to a Wisconsin hospital-specific impact estimate for specific cuts that are on the table to fund the "doc fix." One more of these options may be "in play" as Congress deliberates the issue this month.

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Register Today for 2012 Advocacy Day
April 24, 2012 *** Monona Terrace, Madison

Make an impact in Madison by attending Advocacy Day on April 24. Register your hospital team today, including your senior leaders, trustees and volunteers, for this important event.

Online registration available at http://events.SignUp4.com/AdvocacyDay12

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Successful Public Health/Hospital Partnerships Showcased at WHA Seminar
Co-sponsors: UW Population Health Institute and Healthy Wisconsin Leadership Institute

The County Health Rankings have been a valuable source of public health-related data for hospitals and public health officials for years in Wisconsin. On March 23, Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy director for the County Health Roadmaps project at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, will discuss the current rankings and share the latest tools and resources that support building a partnership between hospitals and public health.

WHA, in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Healthy Wisconsin Leadership Institute, are offering a one-day seminar, "Community Benefit for Health Improvement: Hospital, Public Health and Community Partnerships," March 23 at the Kalahari in Wisconsin Dells.

Two successful local partnerships will also be featured at the seminar: St. Croix County’s "Healthier Together" will be presented by Karen Hansen, manager, community relations at Hudson Hospital & Clinics along with Wendy Kramer, health officer for St. Croix County Public Health.

Clare Reardon, executive director of community affairs at Froedtert Health|Froedtert Hospital and Mark Huber, vice president of social responsibility at Aurora Health Care, will be joined by Eric Gass, PhD, the public health research and policy director for the City of Milwaukee health department. Together they will present the collaborative work being done by five health systems through the Milwaukee Healthcare Partnership, which is helping to coordinate their community health needs assessments and health improvement planning with public health officials in six counties.

The seminar will cover the basics of the ACA and IRS requirements and acquaint participants with tools, strategies and resources that will be helpful as community health assessments are developed and implemented.

The day will start with a presentation by David Edquist, an attorney with the law firm von Briesen & Roper. Edquist will lay the groundwork for community health needs assessments and discuss recent IRS guidance on common questions.

For more information and to register, go to http://events.SignUp4.com/CommunityBenefit12.

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Wisconsin Receives CDC’s Highest Childhood Immunization Coverage Award

Wisconsin received the Highest Childhood Immunization Coverage Award in the United States on February 1 from the Centers for Disease Control. The award was based on achieving an 84 percent immunization coverage rate among children aged 19 to 35 months, according to state officials.

"This award is a tribute to the public and private health care providers in Wisconsin that go the extra mile to help children stay on the recommended immunization schedule, and to parents, for protecting children from serious vaccine preventable diseases," said Henry Anderson, MD, state health officer. "Thanks to this collaborative effort, Wisconsin immunization rates are consistently high compared with the national average as measured by the National Immunization Survey (NIS)*."

The award recognized the state for its high compliance rate for a specific series of vaccines recommended by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which includes vaccines to prevent diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliovirus infections, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), hepatitis B, varicella (chickenpox), pneumococcal disease, and haemophilus influenzae (Hib) disease. This year’s award criteria excluded Hib vaccine data because of a vaccine shortage during the July 2010 to June 2011 award time period.

The state’s immunization program assists local health departments, physicians and other clinicians, school districts and other state and community partners to increase awareness of immunization requirements, health benefits and outbreak control measures, and maintains state immunization compliance data.

The award was mentioned in a weekly influenza update that Professor Jonathan Temte, MD, Department of Family Medicine at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison shares with WHA. His weekly update includes statistics, clinical and global notes, and interesting observations. Temte’s report is posted on WHA’s website at www.wha.org/weekly-influenza-update.aspx, or go to WHA.org and click on Health Care Issues, Influenza, Weekly Influenza Update.

*The National Immunization Survey (NIS) is sponsored by the National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) and conducted jointly by NCIRD and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Fort HealthCare CFO Appointed to CMS Advisory Panel

Jim Nelson, CFO of Fort HealthCare in Fort Atkinson, has been appointed to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Advisory Panel on Hospital Outpatient Payment (HOP). WHA was pleased to nominate Jim for this position based on his experience and knowledge of hospital payment, medical delivery, and provider billing and accounting systems.

The first semi-annual meeting of the HOP, formerly known as the Advisory Panel on Ambulatory Payment Classification Groups (the APC Panel), will be February 27-29, 2012. One of the issues the Panel is charged with reviewing in February will be supervision requirements for hospital outpatient services.

Physician supervision was altered by CMS under the 2010 hospital outpatient prospective payment system rule ("OPPS"), and for many rural hospitals, that change created a significant burden. CMS has been working since then on an appropriate solution. Additional issues the Panel will review include:

The purpose of the HOP is to advise the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on the clinical integrity of the APC groups and their associated weights, and hospital outpatient supervision issues. Panel members may serve for up to four-year terms. The Panel shall consist of up to 19 total members who are representatives of providers, have a minimum of five years experience in their area(s) of expertise, and be full-time employees of hospitals, hospital systems, or other Medicare providers.

In addition to serving as a hospital CFO, Nelson has been active in the Wisconsin Chapter of the Healthcare Financial Management Association, including serving as Chapter President. He is also active in the Wisconsin Hospital Association serving on the WHA Council on Finance and Payment.

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WHA Education: Health Care Administrative Professionals Conference, May 18

WHA’s annual one-day conference for executive assistants and other administrative support staff from hospitals will be held May 18 at the Glacier Canyon Lodge at the Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells.

This year’s agenda will focus on increasing your value, boosting your confidence, and building a great record of accomplishments that will skyrocket your career and strengthen your work relationships.

This program is designed for executive and administrative assistants, business office managers, and other support staff in hospitals and other health care settings. A brochure is included in this week’s packet. Online registration is available at http://events.SignUp4.com/HC-Administrative12.

Pass the brochure on to the valued administrative support professionals in departments throughout your organization. For registration questions, contact Lisa Littel at 608-274-1820 or email llittel@wha.org.

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WHA Job Bulletin Available to WHA Member Hospitals

The WHA Job Bulletin is a popular member-only service that has been offered since 2004 as a benefit to Association member hospitals. Job vacancies are submitted online by using a Web-based tool that can be found at www.wha.org/submit-a-job.aspx or click on the WHA Job Bulletin logo on the WHA home page.

Positions are posted for one month only. At the end of that time, they must be resubmitted. If a position is filled and needs to be removed before the end of the posting time, contact Tammy Hribar at thribar@wha.org.

Job postings must be for positions that are directly employed by the member’s hospital or health system. There are no fees associated with posting positions.

To see the list of positions open, visit www.wha.org/view-current-jobs.aspx. This can also be found by clicking on the Workforce tab under Health Care Issues and then Job Bulletin.

For questions about the web-based submission tool, contact Tammy Hribar at thribar@wha.org. For more information on this or other issues related to workforce, contact Judy Warmuth at jwarmuth@wha.org or call 608-274-1820.

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Member News: Ministry Health Care Assumes Full Sponsorship of Affinity Health System

Ministry Health Care (Ministry) and Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare (Wheaton) announced the transfer of sponsorship of Affinity Health System (Affinity) in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley. Ministry and Wheaton have been co-sponsors of Affinity since 1996. Effective February 8, Ministry assumed sole sponsorship of Affinity.

Affinity is a network of three hospitals, 26 clinics, a medical group that includes nearly 300 providers, and 4,000 employees who serve the health care needs of the greater Fox Valley area. In addition, Affinity’s Network Health Plan also provides health insurance benefits to more than 133,000 members in communities located throughout northeastern Wisconsin in 17 counties. Ministry’s sponsor, the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, founded Affinity’s Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh in 1891. Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare’s sponsor, the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters, founded Affinity’s St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton in 1899.

According to John Oliverio, president and CEO of Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, "Ministry and Wheaton have had a long and successful partnership as co-sponsors of Affinity. In view of the pending challenges of health care reform and federal budget deficits, Ministry approached our organization last year with a proposal to assume sole sponsorship of Affinity. After thoughtful review and discussions, we reached an agreement that will allow Ministry to continue the strong tradition of delivering the Catholic health care ministry to the Fox Valley that was begun by our founding Sisters and fulfills the heritage of Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare and our founders."

"The assumption of sole sponsorship by Ministry will extend our health care delivery footprint into a contiguous geographic market," noted Nick Desien, president and CEO of Ministry Health Care. "Sole sponsorship brings additional assets to Ministry’s delivery system, which will create cost-saving opportunities, provide additional medical management experience and infrastructure, and better position Ministry to address issues related to health care reform."

"We are supportive of this new sole sponsorship agreement," said Daniel Neufelder, president and CEO of Affinity Health System. "Our patients and members should expect a continuation of personalized care from our physicians and care teams in the same close-to-home clinics and hospitals they currently visit."

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Wisconsin Hospitals Community Benefits: Access to High Quality Health Services

Hospitals do what they can to move health care services out of the clinical setting into the heart of the community. Community health screenings and education classes help raise awareness of steps that individuals can take to improve their health. When people learn more about how their lifestyle decisions affect their health, they make changes that ultimately lead to better health, which raises the health status of the entire community.

“Paint the Town Red” offers free screenings, heart healthy education and camaraderie

Imagine what it would be like to walk down Main Street in any town and get a blood pressure reading, learn about how sleep apnea affects heart health from an MD and sit down with an internal medicine doctor to ask any health question that comes to mind – all for free.
      St. Joseph’s Hospital and Chippewa Falls Main Street combined to make that dream a reality during the community’s first “Paint the Town Red” event at participating businesses in Downtown Chippewa Falls.
      St. Joseph’s Hospital is known for offering free screenings at events like health expos, the Healthy Heart Event in February and Day of Dance in March, just to name a few. But “Paint the Town Red” combines the bustling downtown community with eager businesses and the promotion of heart health and wellness.
      Michele Paquette, marketing specialist with St. Joseph’s Hospital, said people in the Chippewa Valley are clamoring for knowledge.
      “It used to surprise me – having so many people attend health education events in their free time,” Paquette said. “Now it’s the norm. If we have an hour-long presentation with free blood pressure screenings, we fill the venue. At St. Joseph’s Hospital we do as many events as we can to satisfy the community’s needs.”
      Anyone in the Chippewa Falls area was encouraged to visit the free health screenings offered at several locations throughout downtown.
Life Fitness Center, 312 N. Bridge St., offered free blood pressure screenings from St. Joseph’s Hospital Home Health nurses.
- Mason Shoe, 301 N. Bridge St., offered free pedometers and exercise tips from St. Joseph’s Hospital physical therapists.
-Korger’s Furniture and Decorating, 201 N. Bridge St., hosted Drs. Robert and Rima DeFatta, ear/nose/throat physicians from Sacred Heart Hospital Head & Neck Center and on staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The DeFattas provided information about sleep apnea and its impact on heart health.
 -Foreign 5, 123 N. Bridge St., hosted Dr. Terry Benson, Internal medicine physician from Eau Claire Medical Clinic and on staff at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Benson provided an “Ask the Doc” session to answer any medical questions.
 -A String Above Guitar Shop and Lesson Center, 105 N. Bridge St., and adjoining business Styling Gallery hosted Dr. Shawna Lee, certified audiologist from Sacred Heart Hospital Head & Neck Center. Lee offered free hearing screenings and custom hearing solutions for participants.

St. Joseph’s Hospital, Chippewa Falls

Fort HealthCare, Rock River Free Clinic provide essential health care to those in need

True to its mission, the Rock River Free clinic provides access to free health services for low income and uninsured individuals. And, in these days of economic hardship, the number of persons who suddenly find themselves without health insurance is growing steadily. The dedicated and caring health professionals, staff and volunteers offer a safety net that is an essential component of the regional health care system. 
      Fort HealthCare leadership appreciates the critical role the Free Clinic plays in ensuring the health of the area’s most vulnerable residents. With that in mind, David Rutledge, MD, a family medicine physician at Fort HealthCare Jefferson for 29 years, was recently appointed full-time medical director. Dr. Rutledge’s commitment, paid for by Fort HealthCare, helps the Rock River Free Clinic Board reach its goal of adding more regular physician services to this invaluable program.
      Since its inception, the clinic operated on a limited basis with volunteer clinicians and support staff. His new role also benefits Fort HealthCare as patients with acute illnesses but no health insurance will be able to get the care they need when they need it. He is joined by a full-time licensed practical nurse employed by the Jefferson County Health Department. This new level of medical professional staffing allows the clinic to be open four and one half days per week. Previously, the clinic was open only on Thursday evenings.
      Free Clinic services include individual assessments, medications, referrals for diagnosis and treatment of serious conditions, lab tests, x-rays, health education, wound care, chronic and acute care, vaccinations, disease screenings, seizure management and more. 
      On a recent clinic day the waiting room was crowded and the exam rooms were full. Doctor Donald Bates, a Fort HealthCare family practice physician was seeing a number of patients. Middle aged and with diabetes, a condition she’s had for six years, Margaret came to the clinic for a medication re-fill. She is employed in a full-time position, but can’t afford the health insurance offered by her employer. 
                  Amy comes once a month for care related to her asthma and high blood pressure. Recently widowed, she lived off her and her husband’s investments and social security. The money didn’t go as far as she expected and she had to go to work. Now, she is working part-time at a large box discount store, hoping to gain full-time employment and be eligible for health insurance benefits. Until then, she must rely on the Free Clinic as she can’t afford a regular doctor. A prideful person, she heard about the Free Clinic from her friends and was at first embarrassed to come. But, as she reports, everyone at the Free Clinic has been so kind and wonderful.

Fort HealthCare, Fort Atkinson

Bringing a “Convoy of Hope” to Appleton

Convoy of Hope, an organization that delivers much-needed food, medical exams and personal opportunities to the underprivileged, is lending a hand to families within the Fox Cities communities with the help of Affinity Health System. Recently, a group of 1,200-1,500 volunteers participated in a community outreach day at Fox Valley Technical College that assisted an estimated 4,400 needy attendees. This was Affinity’s second year participating in the event.
      The day consisted of volunteers handing out free bags of groceries and hot meals, as well as conducting free medical/dental screenings, haircuts, job placement services, connections to local churches and community organizations, Kids Zone activities for children and family entertainment. Carrie Hankes, vice president of Mission and Learning Services for Affinity, says the day focuses on supplying those in poverty with long-term support, resources and encouragement from community organizations.
      Affinity coordinated two health care tents set up with more than 27 checkup stations at the outreach event again this year. Last year, more than 100 Affinity team members provided free blood-pressure checks, eye care, dental consultations, podiatry (foot) care, back-to-school physicals and hearing tests. It also donated medical supplies and printed health materials for attendees to take with them.
      “At Affinity Health System, we believe in a world in which every human life is valued and quality health care is available to all,” Hankes said. “Our Catholic identity calls us to initiate and support efforts to reach out to poor and vulnerable people.”
      At the end of the day, Affinity and its team members benefit from the outreach event just as much as those who attend. 
 “This experience really helps us view our health care ministry in a new way—and discover opportunities to be of more help,” Hankes said.

Affinity Health System, Appleton

Submit community benefit stories to Mary Kay Grasmick, editor, at mgrasmick@wha.org.

Read more about hospitals connecting with their communities at www.WiServePoint.org.

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