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Halifax Regional takes pulse of health reform

Posted on Friday, July 29, 2011


Written by Sonny Riddle for the Gazette Virginian 
12:00 am 07/29/11


As U.S. lawmakers mull over whether to raise the nation’s debt limit ceiling or to cut spending, Halifax Regional Health System (HRHS) has been preparing for possible cuts to federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, according to HRHS CEO Chris Lumsden.

“We have been analyzing the impact of healthcare reform legislation on HRHS for months,” Lumsden said. “This would include impact on the hospital, our two nursing homes (The Woodview and Meadowview Terrace) and our medical staff.”

Halifax Regional Health System currently has approximately 1,200 employees and 100 doctors on staff, with 600 of those employees at Halifax Regional Hospital. The CEO said historically, HRHS has tried to protect those who work there by making adjustments rather than laying off employees.

“We have been through tough times before, and we have never had to layoff employees,” he said. “We may move employees from one position to another or from one department to another to avoid layoffs.”

Currently, 53 percent of the patients served at Halifax Regional Hospital (HRH) are on Medicare, and 11 percent are on Medicaid, for a total of 64 percent, Lumsden said.

“That’s just the hospital,” he explained. “We have 200 beds at The Woodview and 150 at Meadowview Terrace, and most of the residents are covered by Medicare and Medicaid.”

Lumsden said if “reform” is just a disguise for cutting payments to healthcare providers, then it will have a tremendous impact on HRHS and most all medical communities across the country.

“What hits the hospital has a profound impact on the health system,” he said. “However, it is our understanding that people who now cannot afford health insurance will or may be provided coverage under the new plan.”

The HRHS CEO said this amounts to approximately 15 to 20 percent of the population in this region.

“If pay reductions in Medicare (insurance for the elderly) and Medicaid (insurance for those with low income) are offset by providing insurance to many of those who now are uninsured, then the overall financial impact to HRHS and those we serve may be minimal,” he explained. “This is still unclear to us, and we continue to closely monitor the situation.”

Although Halifax Regional Hospital does not offer every medical service a patient may need, it offers a majority of services and has a vast referral relationship with a number of medical facilities.

“We offer about 80 percent of what the people in this area need,” he said. “We don’t offer such procedures as open heart surgery, but we have a great referral relationship with other nearby facilities. Over the years we have added far more services than we have deleted.”

Lumsden said HRHS officials don’t know the exact impact any federal program cuts or adjustments will have on the local health system.

Hopefully, reform legislation will reward low cost, high quality providers as opposed to simply cutting payments to doctors, hospitals and nursing homes,” he said. “If efficiency and quality are indeed rewarded, HRHS and our people should do fine.”

Lumsden said health reform and possible cuts being considered are like buying a new car, and the owner’s manual is not complete.

“The rules are still being drafted,” he explained. “We will continue to focus on our mission and core values, doing what’s right and protecting our employees, doctors and patients. It’s certainly interesting times for Halifax Regional Health System and the healthcare industry.”