Westcare prepares for patient load

WestCare’s Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva will be filling a major void in the region’s health care in the wake of to the Medicare and Medicaid crisis at Haywood Regional Medical Center.

WestCare CEO Mark Leonard learned of the crisis in neighboring Haywood through media reports over the weekend. When he got to work Monday morning, preparations began, from having extra nurses on-call to predicting where bottlenecks might occur in an attempt to head them off early.

“Our nursing leadership called a special meeting this morning, and they are starting to put together their contingency plan to assess what our capacity is, from our facilities perspective and a staffing perspective, and seeing what additional resources we would need to meet the community demand,” Leonard said. “Within our abilities and our capacities, we will do everything we can to help because it is a very, very unusual situation. We want to make sure the community continues to receive excellent patient care.”

Mission Hospital in Asheville has also made preparations to accommodate a potential influx of Medicare and Medicaid patients. The hospital hasn’t seen a significant increase yet, according to Janet Moore, director of community relations and marketing.

Since Saturday evening, Moore said, the hospital has received 13 patients rom Haywood County who were transported directly to Mission, and four patients that came from HRMC. That’s in keeping with the average ofa bout 15 patients per day the hospital receives from Haywood County, Moore said.

Mission and Westcare hospitals are not only preparing for an influx of patients from Haywood County, but are also opening their doors to Haywood County doctors who need somewhere to perform surgeries.

Mission said the hospital has already been contacted by a few physicians, though no one has formally applied.

“A number of the physicians have contacted us to ask if there was anyway in which we could help their patients in their community during this emergency situation,” Leonard said of Westcare.

Leonard said Westcare immediately began exploring ways that it could offer emergency credentials to Haywood doctors who need somewhere to treat their Medicare and Medicaid patients. Before a doctor can use a hospital’s facilities for their procedures, the hospital checks out the doctor’s credentials, resume and licenses. WestCare is expediting that process for Haywood physicians, Leonard said.

To speed it up, WestCare asked Haywood Regional to share its files on the physicians - which already include things like copies of the doctor’s diploma and his various medical licenses, Leonard said.

“I think it will take longer to get the information together than for us to have our chief of staff and credentialing chair to sign off on it,” Leonard said Monday morning. “That can be done in a matter of hours rather than a matter of days.”

Interim HRMC CEO Al Byers said Haywood would do all it can to help its doctors begin practicing at WestCare.

“We’re helping them get credentials, whatever we can do,” Byers said.

Leonard said WestCare will make operating rooms at both of its hospitals - Harris in Sylva and Bryson City Hospital - available.

“We have six operating rooms here in Sylva and a fully functioning operating room at Bryson City that is a resource for these physicians,” Leonard said.

By the afternoon, Haywood Regional had amassed the files of numerous doctors seeking credentials at WestCare and had hospital security serve as a courier to transport the files to Harris.

In terms of patient load, Leonard said the hospital is used to serving patients from multiple counties, including Haywood.

Haywood County doctors have been impressed the by the cooperative spirit of WestCare.

“They are all being exceedingly kind and helpful to deal with this unprecedented emergency,” said Dr. Nathan Henry, who is seeking space at Harris to perform his colonoscopies.

When choosing whether to take his case load to Sylva or Mission Hospital in Asheville, Henry chose Sylva for its convenience to patients - both in terms of getting there and navigating the hospital once there. Also, like many Haywood doctors, Nathan already had a working relationship with the Jackson County medical community.

“It’s not like they are trying to expedite credentials for a bunch of strangers. They know us,” Nathan said.

Medicare and Medicaid reimburse hospitals less than the actual medical bill, bringing in less revenue than patients with private insurance. Hospitals do not like their ratio of Medicare and Medicaid patients to be too high since they payment for services is lower. But Leonard said WestCare is not concerned about that.

“In a situation such as this our first priority is going to be responding to the community needs and the financial situation would have to take a back seat. We’ll let the bean counters figure that out after the fact,” Leonard said.

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