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Valley Health CEO reflects on past year, looks ahead

Mark Merrill (Buy photo)

By Katie Demeria

WINCHESTER -- At the annual Valley Health Systems Corporation meeting Tuesday, Valley Health CEO Mark Merrill highlighted some of the advances the health system has made in the past year, and some future projects they are hoping to tackle.

Some construction areas the system is hoping to tackle in the next year include making advancements to Shenandoah Memorial Hospital and Warren Memorial Hospital.

Woodstock will see a new Medical Office Building added to Shenandoah Memorial, Merrill said, so new offices will be readily available to the medical staff there.

Valley Health also plans to make renovations to Warren Memorial Hospital, which Merrill said is "obviously in need of some enhancement."

The health system looking forward to the implementation of EPIC, its new electronic medical records system for which many staff members have been training to use over recent months. It will go live on May 30.

"We'll be notifying those we serve and asking for patience from them," Merrill said.

Valley Health's partnership with Inova Health allowed it to speed up EPIC's implementation, as Inova also uses the medical records system.

Merrill touched on the partnership, as well, and said the alliance creates multiple benefits for both, including clinical program development and research, and that both remain independent in terms of governance, management and finances.

"We can accomplish more together than we can separately," Merrill said.

In terms of medical advancement, Merrill mentioned stereotactic radiosurgery, which the hospital is now using in partnership with the University of Virginia. The technology allows physicians to pinpoint tumors and apply radiation to a smaller area, sparing healthy cells.

It has also introduced a "more sophisticated" maternal and fetal medicine program, which will allow for advanced care for mothers with a higher risk for complications.

"We have seen in our community, just as we have across the nation, women are having children later, women's health issues are more prevalent, we're seeing an increase in obesity for pregnant women, as well," Merrill said.

Merrill also brought up the community engagement efforts the health system has developed, including attempting to tackle issues with drug abuse in the area.

"Most recently, an emerging public health issue is drug overdoses and drug addictions. So our team is working collaboratively with law enforcement and service agencies to deal with the prescription and illicit drug problems we see in our community and also across the country," Merrill said.

Before making all these announcements, however, Merrill made a presentation on the importance of closing the coverage gap, and how doing so will benefit the system immensely, as well as those it serves.

Between 2008 and 2012, Merrill said, Valley Health has seen an increase in its charity care by 70 percent. Virginia hospitals as a whole have seen a 50 percent increase.

Closing the coverage gap, which would allow all those hovering around the poverty line to qualify for Medicaid, would return $12 million to Valley Health in 2015, and $24 million in 2016.

He said Virginia's decision to not expand Medicaid has caused the health system to reduce jobs, positions and hours, as well as the community benefits hospitals can offer. Other hard decisions will have to be made, he said, if the gap is not closed.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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