Guest Column: Tahoe Forest an exemplary model for health care | SierraSun.com

Guest Column: Tahoe Forest an exemplary model for health care

Roger Kahn

After nine years on the Board of Directors of Tahoe Forest Hospital, I will be stepping down next month. I want to take this opportunity to reflect on my time on the board and some of its achievements.

There are over 700 employees of the health system. The nurses and support staff do an outstanding job of taking care of patients. We use a national survey organization, Press Ganey, to measure patient satisfaction. We consistently receive outstanding patient satisfaction results and have won numerous awards for our service.

Earlier this year we had a triennial survey conducted by the Healthcare Facilities Accreditation Program. They reviewed all aspects of both Tahoe Forest Hospital and Incline Village Community Hospital, found no clinical issues and praised the organization for its exceptional performance.

The level of commitment by the staff of our hospitals is unmatched and we are extremely fortunate to enjoy such tender loving care from all of them. Thank you to our employees.

During my service on the board the quality metrics achieved by Tahoe Forest have improved dramatically. The medical community, currently consists of 62 physicians on active staff in emergency medicine, primary care and various medical specialties, holds itself to the highest standard of performance.

The physicians constantly attend continuing educational events to keep themselves abreast of current best practices in the delivery of medicine. In most communities in the U.S. patients are booked into short windows where they see the doctor for ridiculously short amount of appointment time.

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Most of those physicians simply order tests and treat the patient solely based on the results of the tests ordered. We are fortunate to have a cadre of doctors who take the time to listen to their patients and base their diagnosis and treatment partially on what they hear from their one on one communication with each patient.

Thank you to the physicians for providing an extremely high level of service and commitment to our community.

When I was first appointed to the Board of Directors of the hospital in August 2005, the Western Addition Project was not quite complete. The infrastructure of the hospital was antiquated and in great need of modernization.

When the Women's and Family building of the hospital is finished in a couple of years, the Measure C projects will be completed on budget. We will have a 21st century facility delivering the highest quality of medicine. The Measure C bond was passed seven years ago with a 72 percent majority.

The projects — providing expanded cancer services, expanded and improved emergency services, obstetrics and gynecological services in an earthquake compliant building, a remodeled and expanded Extended Care Center, upgraded infrastructure and technology services — were all vetted through community surveys prior to the election and specifically worded into the bond measure.

A huge thank you is in order to the entire North Tahoe Truckee community for voting to tax itself in order to allow us to provide these improvements.

During my tenure on the Board of Directors we have been led by a very talented administrative team. In my early years on the board, we enjoyed a very favorable reimbursement from insurance companies and government payers.

During that time, the administrative team advocated to the Board of Directors, and we agreed, to change our designation to a Critical Access Hospital which has saved this hospital millions of dollars annually. The administrative leadership and Board of Directors have worked together to limit the ever increasing cost of health care delivery.

Over the course of the past nine years, hospital charges have increased by 45 percent. Operating revenues increased by 52.6 percent during this period and operating expenses rose by 63.8 percent. These results are favorable to the peer hospitals in our region and nationally.

The hospital has shown an operating income every year. During the entire nine years, the administrative team and the Board of Directors made a conscious decision to build cash reserves for the hospital.

Today, as the financing of health care is beginning to undergo radical change as a result of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the hospital district has managed to accumulate over $50 million dollars in cash reserves in the bank which give it flexibility to adapt to the anticipated future changes in healthcare financing. Thank you to the hospital's administrators.

When I first arrived on the board, the hospital's sole role was to take care of patients who came to the facility when they were sick. Today the hospital realizes it has a greater role in our community.

Utilizing information the hospital has garnered from its work and from Community Health Needs Assessments which were conducted three years ago and refreshed recently, we are using a portion of the property tax dollars you provide to the district to design preventative health programs to try to keep our population healthy and out of the hospital.

Over the past few years we have developed programs to deal with the disparities in the access to health care; making sure all members of our community have a primary care provider; deal with the substance abuse problems that are becoming more apparent in Tahoe-Truckee; improve mental health access and improve immunization rates.

As the major provider of health care services, Tahoe Forest Hospital District has a responsibility to our community to try to improve the health of all of our citizens. I am thankful we are doing that and believe it is an appropriate way to spend our tax dollars.

The support staff, the nurses, the doctors, the community, the administrative leadership and the Board of Directors have all had a role to play in making Tahoe Forest Hospital District an exemplary model for the delivery of health care in a small community. We have done it as a team.

I know the best organizations function best when all elements work together for the good of all. I am proud of these accomplishments and what little contribution I have made.

Roger Kahn is a Tahoe City resident and outgoing director on the Tahoe Forest Hospital District Board.