Starting about five months ago, Virtua signed contracts with 36 nursing-home operators in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Mercer Counties.
It's not meant to be an exclusive list.
It includes 29 of the 46 nursing homes in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties, which is where most of Virtua's operations are located. The remaining seven are in Mercer County.
When Virtua patients need a stint of rehabilitation in a post-hospital setting, they are given a list of preferred providers and a letter explaining the screening process.
"This is a list we're providing, saying we vetted these people," but the patient still has the right to go anywhere, said John Matsinger, Virtua's chief clinical officer.
Three nursing-home operators interviewed recently praised the program.
"It makes lesser-performing organizations strive to do better," said Shari Neidich, executive director of Collingswood Manor, a Collingswood facility with an above-average rating from Medicare.
Neidich said other health systems are making similar pushes. Lourdes Health System, for example, has a program to prevent readmissions specifically for congestive heart failure patients. Collingswood participates in that.
"Virtua, I think, is ahead of other providers," said Paul Bach, an executive vice president at Genesis HealthCare Corp., which oversees 127 nursing homes for the Kennett Square company, including its homes in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Genesis has five facilities on Virtua's list.
As more health systems move in the direction taken by Virtua, Bach would like to see more uniformity in the selection criteria.
Virtua used nine criteria to evaluate facilities, including a willingness to work with Virtua on specific measures to improve care and a willingness to tap into Virtua's health information exchange.
As to whether the network is helping to reduce readmissions, Michael S. Kotzen, Virtua's executive vice president for population health management, said it's too soon.
"I think within a year's time we would have a better sense," Kotzen said.