ASHNHA talks with Bartlett about legislative priorities

Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The head of an association of Alaska hospitals and nursing homes Tuesday told Bartlett Regional Hospital’s planning committee the group’s top concerns this legislative season are Medicaid funding and health care reform laws.

Karen Perdue, CEO and president of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association (ASHNHA), gave a general overview of the association’s plans, and said more details would be issued later as they speak with more hospitals in the state and gauge support. Perdue said the group would focus on obtaining adequate funding for Medicaid, supporting legislation on incentive or loan repayments, advocating for workforce funding requests and psychiatric training programs, educating lawmakers about health care reform legislation and expanding the Denali Kid Care program to families living at less than 200 percent of the poverty level.

“This hospital probably receives about $5 (million to) $6 million in Medicaid payments,” Perdue said. “It’s for the poor and the vulnerable — people who would not have insurance for their needs.”

Perdue said with the Medicaid budget every year, there has been an issue of money and the problem has been growing. She said this year, $180 million has been requested in funding for Medicaid in the state.

“I think the governor has become very concerned about the future growth of the Medicaid program,” Perdue said. “We don’t have to live with the economic pressures. We as an association have said, ‘we support the program and want to get funding, but at the same time we want to come to the table and see what are the cost drivers.’ It’s the responsible, yet somewhat risky thing to do.”

Perdue said the reason why they’re promoting the workforce measure is because it is more cost effective to “home grow” physicians and specialists.

Perdue said she was involved in expanding the nursing program in Juneau, and believes it would be a significant benefit to evolve training for specialty positions in the same way — locally.

“We don’t have strategies for those in our state,” she said. “We’re the only state that doesn’t have either a school or a strategy. There is a psychiatric residency program now in the governor’s budget, which will yield 11 residents.”

The medical professionals will have a two-year residency at hospitals in Alaska under that program.

Hospital Board member Nathan Peimann asked if Bartlett is on the list to receive residents through that program. Perdue said Bartlett could be. She listed several hospitals in the state that have either contributed funds or letters of support to the initiative, but wasn’t sure what had been completed through Bartlett. Perdue said work is being done by Bartlett also.

One of the ASHNHA board priorities for the year is health care reform. Perdue said it’s a challenging time for hospitals to deal with the health care law, since there are efforts in Congress to repeal some of the new laws.

“It’s still a law,” she said. “We’re living in a sort of multi-dimensional world here. It’s a law, but some people don’t think it’s a real law and I think that presents a challenge for hospitals.”

ASHNHA will be working on analyzing the reform laws further this year. It also plans to develop improvement projects for small hospitals, strengthen capacity and focus, lead the health workforce plan implementation, monitor mandatory nurse overtime, re-establish a focus on behavioral health, facilitate electronic health records provisions and collaborate with community health centers.

Bartlett Community Relations Director Jim Strader said he is unsure what the next steps for the hospital are regarding ASHNHA’s priorities. Bartlett is a member of the association. Strader said either the planning committee will discuss the priorities and how they may align with Bartlett, or the planning committee will forward the information to the full hospital board.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.



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