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Friday, December 19, 2014

Health center sets lofty goals

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By Sergio Jiménez / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Vice Chancellor for Research Richard Larson discusses the Health Sciences Center’s new strategic plan at a UNMH Board of Directors meeting Friday afternoon. The plan aims to “make more progress in health and health equity than any other state by 2020,” and has been implemented by the department little by little since January.

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UNM’s Health Sciences Center has developed a new strategic plan to accommodate future changes in the state’s health care sector.

According to a presentation made by Vice Chancellor for Research Richard Larson at a UNMH Board of Directors meeting on Friday, the HSC aims to “make more progress in health and health equity than any other state by 2020.”

Larson said the HSC has been implementing minor aspects of the strategic plan since January. He said the new strategic plan reflects the changes brought about by national reforms in health care. He said the plan also aims to supplement UNM’s future goals.

“We’re really in an era of tremendous change and challenge,” he said. “With the initiation of President Frank’s plan for the University, we have also kept our goals aligned with the goals, activities and planning of that as well.”

Larson said the plan will address the HSC’s workforce needs and will find ways to increase the size and amount of research the center conducts. The plan also aims to improve community health in general by enhancing immunization in the Albuquerque area and by helping to reduce the rates of diabetes, obesity, cancer and coronary artery disease among the HSC’s patients through community programs, he said.

According to the Preamble to the HSC Strategic Plan, the HSC started its planning process in February 2012. The HSC selected consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates (KSA) to conduct research on what the center’s goals should be.

In a presentation he gave, KSA Strategy and Practice Partner and Director Farzan Bharucha said the HSC should expect more demand for inpatient and outpatient services within the next decade.

Bharucha said the center would also have to add 118 beds to UNMH, which currently has about 500 beds, to keep up with the number of patients it would serve by 2015. He said this would require the creation of a new section in the hospital, which could cost millions of dollars.

The plan also aims to make health care more affordable for patients in the future, Bharucha said. But he said to do this, the HSC must trim down its “waste.”

“Costs are usually tied to people, and when you say you’re cutting costs, you’re usually cutting labor,” he said. “It’s easy to say you should be cutting waste, but waste often has its own name. I’m not saying any of this is easy, but it will be critical over the next five to 10 years.”

But Bharucha said the creation of facilities suggested in the plan, such as an improved obstetrics facility and a new hospital section for more beds, could bring in more than $80 million of revenue to the HSC in the future.

HSC Chancellor Paul Roth said the new plan will help the center cope with the prospective changes brought about by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“The whole point of our evolution over the last three years or so has been to better position ourselves for health care reform, so that the institution not only survives in this new environment, but also flourishes,” he said.

Roth said the plan will also uphold the state of academics at the HSC.

“The intent is also that we remain high in our teaching and research missions,” he said. “We have an obligation to the state of New Mexico to produce the next generation of professional health care workforce.”

But some people are not as enthusiastic with the plan.

During the meeting, Nicola Trevisan, a member of District 1199 NM, a union of hospital employees in the state, said the HSC’s priorities are unclear. She said that instead of funding new projects featured in the new strategic plan, the Center and UNMH should focus first on employee salaries.

“It is concerning that the perception is that UNMH is dedicated only to overall strategic planning of the hospital and not to employees,” she said. “They budget for everything, but they verbally told us for years that they did not budget for a wage increase.”

But Larson said with the plan, the HSC would help improve people’s health on a wider scale.

“We would actually take some responsibility for improving the health of our communities in New Mexico,” he said.