Barton Memorial Hospital expanding to remain competitive

When Brenda Knox called Barton Memorial Hospital to schedule a mammogram, the South Lake Tahoe woman was amazed by the result. She could have the test right away.

"They asked me if I could come tomorrow. I couldn't believe it and said: 'OK, I'm there," she said Thursday during the procedure. "I think probably, if I was in the Bay Area, it could've taken 30 days to get in. We're usually talking two weeks."

Knox, whose last mammogram was three years ago, lived in the Bay Area and still runs a company there.

After age 40, women are advised to receive mammograms every year.

Easy access to outpatient services like the breast screening is precisely the reason Barton Memorial Hospital expanded the offering at its facility, Stateline Medical Center. The South Lake Tahoe-based health system, which includes Carson Medical Center, moved into the second floor of the Edgewood Village off Highway 50 last week with three units also located at the hospital on the west side of town. The expansion cost about $441,000.

"A mammography center was important because people do have a long wait to get in," Barton spokeswoman Aimee Morales said. "Our hospital is so busy it's a way to get people over here."

The new units include a mammography center, lab for procedures such as blood tests and rehabilitation services, which encompasses occupational, hand, speech, lymphedema and physical therapy. The latter provides an assortment of Nautilus machines ranging from the treadmill to weights.

"We started this because we didn't see patients from the other side of town," rehabilitation services director Rene Hoogendijk said, referring to patients coming from the east side of the Lake Tahoe Basin. "There was a hole in the market."

Health care has become a competitive industry. If Barton fails to offer specialized treatments, consumers will seek them elsewhere. Glenbrook residents may get to Carson Valley sooner than Third Street on busy days through the Stateline casino corridor.

For instance, Carson Tahoe-Hospital plans to open its new facility north of Carson City in December. And the old Carson Valley location will be dedicated to outpatient services.

"We have to make sure these services are easily accessed," Barton Chief Financial Officer Dick Derby said.

There's a larger reason than a hospital trying to shuffle patients through the system in a speedy manner.

If it's difficult to get in for outpatient services that provide preventive care, people will wait to fix a problem that can lead to a trip to the emergency room or chemotherapy. This drives up health care costs when people more expensive services and procedures.

Barton's expansion marks a $170 million company trying to keep up with an evolving medical industry some would say is in need of overhaul. Given a financially unfriendly atmosphere, some hospitals have been forced to close or cut back.

Lower insurance reimbursements, higher out-of-pocket rates for employees and more uninsured patients have tested the sustainability of many facilities and policy holders.

Derby implemented a more aggressive collections system to keep the private, non-profit hospital's financial house in order. More education and payment arrangements are the order of day. In addition, staff and contract workers help patients with paperwork associated with MediCal, the state's insurance program for the poor.

After five years of the new system, bad debt on unpaid accounts has nearly been cut in half, with $2 million in collections recovered.

Making the most of its remodeling job slated next year to meet government-required earthquake codes, Barton will also expand its Resource Center and physical therapy services at the hospital. With that, a wound care center and aquatic program would be added to physical therapy options.


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