Virtua widening care in the community it serves

John Matsinger with Joe Stein, who shows off his strength at Virtua Health in Berlin.
John Matsinger with Joe Stein, who shows off his strength at Virtua Health in Berlin. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 12, 2014

The handoff of patients from hospitals to nursing homes has taken on increased significance now that Medicare penalizes hospitals if too many patients are readmitted unnecessarily within 30 days of discharge.

To help prevent a breakdown in that transition and to generally improve care for its patients, Virtua, which bills itself as South Jersey's biggest health system, has formed a preferred provider network for nursing homes and rehabilitation centers.

The plan is part of an effort at Virtua to cast a wider net of care in the community it serves in preparation for a time when insurers will pay health systems for keeping people out of the hospital, not just for procedures and stays in the hospital.

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.



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