With nearly four decades of experience with Mercy, Jon Swope has accrued a wealth of knowledge in the health care industry. He recognizes the challenges it faces now and the need to face them head on.
2019 Projection: As the population ages, utilization of both outpatient services and inpatient care will continue to rise, as investment in telemedicine and virtual care will remain a key component in patient treatment.
SBJ: Are there still challenges to fill positions in the industry? If so, what’s being done to address them?
Swope: I think the two areas that almost every health system would talk about would be primary care physicians and nursing.
On the nursing front, speaking for Mercy, in all our communities we’re working with the local nursing schools to try and provide support, whether that’s through clinical rotations and allowing student nurses to have experience, along with scholarships for nurses.
With physicians, we’re doing the same thing. It’s harder, legislatively, to get funding to expand the number of physicians that go through medical school and then through residency programs.
SBJ: How would you describe the current climate of the industry?
Swope: The climate from an economic view is one that is challenged. We continue to need some form of health care reform and it’s not materialized yet. Economically, rural health care is really struggling. Larger, more urban areas are doing better than rural health care. But economically, we’re seeing a lot of challenges simply because of the reduced amount of reimbursements we’re receiving from both the federal and state governments through Medicaid programs, etc. Of course, in Missouri, there’s a lot of Medicaid expansion.
SBJ: It appears there is a concerted push to reach more rural areas around Springfield with new clinics and hospitals coming online or scheduled to be built in the near future. Is this a trend that will continue for 2019 and beyond?
Swope: Absolutely, I think it is. The reality is as we see the population aging, at Mercy, one of the things we’re really focused on is trying to provide care as close to where our patients live as we can. So, the strategic decision we made to open a pretty robust clinic in Branson was to be as close to where those patients are as we can. We’re doing the same thing in Bolivar. We’re trying to reach out to rural communities and keep those patients from having to drive a significant distance to get to health care.
SBJ: Mercy recently partnered with Burrell Behavioral Health for providing mental health services. Why are mental health services so vital at this time?
Swope: There’s so many different opinions why mental illnesses and mental health problems are growing at the rate they are. The reality is the incidents are drug abuse, drug addiction. The growth that we’re seeing in our emergency rooms and behavioral health centers, it’s just overwhelming for our caregivers at times.
The cool part about our relationship with Burrell is rather than Mercy trying to just go and do its own thing, which we’ve historically done, we were able to connect with a community partner and really work together. It’s something that we’re going to have to really work together on as a community.
SBJ: What could disrupt the industry?
Swope: The thing that all of us in health care worry the most about is Congress’ inability to come to an agreement on health reform. Without recognition that the Affordable Care Act needs to be revised or redone, we’re seeing more and more patients across the country. The exchanges that were a part of providing care through the Affordable Care Act are going away; the insurance companies are losing money. In southwest Missouri, I think we’re down to, in some counties, no opportunity to enroll. Most everywhere else in southwest Missouri I think you only have one provider you can enroll in. The reality is that we’re all seeing more and more people who desperately need health care but simply don’t have any insurance and they don’t have the ability to pay. If there isn’t a viable solution to health reform, a lot of the things that we’re able to do – like some of the wonderful innovations in virtual care, the need to expand primary care and address mental health – is going to become financially challenging for all of us.
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