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Inside View on Health Care: Robert Bezanson

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Robert Bezanson is president and CEO of CoxHealth, a Springfield-based health system with two Springfield hospitals and a network of clinics. The health system’s expansion of its critical care unit at Cox South is the latest project in $139 million of recent physical growth.

What challenges is CoxHealth facing?
First and foremost, it’s declining reimbursements. I think what’s challenging about health reform is that it’s incremental in nature. … It’s not just about physician clinics, the hospitals or home health. It’s all of the pieces, and they’re all affected. So we’ve got to prepare in every different direction.

CoxHealth officials have said there haven’t been any layoffs, but some vacant positions are left unfilled. How do you decide which slots to fill?
We are very sensitive to make sure that we don’t cut our staffing at the caregiver level. But we are careful to make sure we have the right staffing as you get further away from the bedside. There’s a staffing standard that’s based on patient visits, number of procedures, exams or tests.

How has the economic downturn affected CoxHealth’s outlook?
Because of the recession, there’s an increase in the number of self-pay and charity care patients, because people still get sick and are still taken care of.

Where are CoxHealth’s key growth opportunities?
The area that’s probably the greatest concern for growth is critical care beds. Construction is under way (at Cox South) for 24 more critical care beds.

Could Cox North expansion plans move forward in 2011?
Probably not this year, but we are still committed to the north side. Cox College needs a new structure, but we just had to put the plans on hold. But (people) will probably see (changes) at Cox North within five years.

What are CoxHealth’s top goals for 2011?
Those critical care beds are awfully important to us. And, I think to continue our integration of health care delivery is a major goal. It makes us much more successful as our whole work force becomes more integrated.

In 2010, CoxHealth was honored during Salute to Construction as Developer of the Year, partly due to recent local construction volume. Why is working with local companies important?
Our board takes incredible pride in the fact that 90 percent of the contract labor is done by local companies. We insist on that. It’s important to our community.

In recent years, CoxHealth added its Walmart-based clinics. What other methods are being used to improve access to care?
An excellent example is (at CoxHealth affiliate) Oxford Home Health, where they’re using monitors placed in patients’ homes to keep them from having to go to the emergency room.

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