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Valley Health focuses on growth, cost efficiency, value

By Kim Walter

Members of the Valley Health System Corporation were presented with the 2013-2018 strategic plan during the second yearly meeting at the Winchester Medical Center on Tuesday afternoon.

President and CEO Mark Merrill opened the presentation by addressing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and how it would affect the health care industry.

"So far, the benefits have only been touted, but Obamacare will create some serious challenges in the future," he said. "Be careful what you ask for."

Merrill noted that the act has already created numerous regulations for the industry, which essentially will "require higher quality at a lower cost."

Winchester Medical Center board member William Brandt, Jr. began the presentation on Valley Health's five-year strategic plan. He said that the 2007-2012 strategic plan had matured and been largely realized, so in December 2011 a 37-person steering committee made of up board of trustees members, management staff and physicians was brought together to begin putting together the vision for 2013-2018.

The group, met 12 times from December through June, with each meeting lasting about four hours. Feedback was gathered on Valley Health's current state, as well as what its future vision should be. Internal and community stakeholders were consulted, as was outside expertise when gathering the information, Brandt said.

Among the "key vision themes," or aspects most important to participants, were high quality of care, very good access to care, excellent physician and system alignment, and the culture of the system.

The theme with the most comments, though, and the one that surprised the steering committee, was continuum of care.

"This is not something we really do as a system," Brandt said. Given the feedback, though, the steering committee felt tension between its vision for Valley Health, action steps to fulfill the vision, and the current reality of the industry, he added.

"Given the current realities, Valley Health will need to continue to focus on growth and positioning in the near term while planning for value in the mid-to-longer term," Brandt said. When it comes to value, the system needs to focus in particular on cost efficiency, he said.

According to the presentation, Valley Health also needs to put itself in a position that is ready for future health reform, as well as one that is competitive, through clinical programs, quality, service and cost differentiation and geographic access points.

"We must maintain and enhance our financial strength," he added, as Valley Health will soon have to "do more with less reimbursement."

Merrill went on to present some "good news" in that the population of Valley Health's service area is growing.

"We are the market leader in our primary service area," he said. "Obviously, we are the largest provider in the region."

Because of the projected population growth in the area, and the fact that the Shenandoah Valley has been called a "good place to retire," Merrill said that there is continued opportunity for organic growth in the service area.

"Having appropriate capabilities -- primary care, specialty care, rehab, post-acute -- across the service area will position Valley Health to care for patients in the most appropriate setting," he said, going over the summary point of the presentation. "We need to be here for future generations."

In the coming months, initiatives will be prioritized by establishing realistic long term and short term timelines. Quarterly operating plan updates will be given to the board, Merrill said.

"This won't happen over night ... it is a five-year plan," he said.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com


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