BRISTOL - Despite ongoing financial pressures in the health care industry and the toll of state tax increases, Bristol Hospital is committed to being a high-quality health provider, meeting the needs of the community now and in the future.
And Kurt Barwis, president and CEO, is not shy in presenting evidence to prove it.
“We made the decision to double down on focusing on community needs” uncovered by direct surveys of the community, he explained. The alternative? “Bleeding a slow and miserable death, and we weren’t going to do that.”
The hospital has moved to recruit “rock star”-level providers critical to meeting those needs - from robotic surgeons to a podiatrist - 20 over the last two years. It’s opened or expanded oupatient offices in New Britain and Plainville, as well as in Southington (opening this week). A planned 60,000-square-foot ambulatory care center in downtown Bristol is shovel-ready. And on the Brewster Road main campus, a renovation creating the new Senior Inpatient Behavioral Health Unit integrates activities scattered throughout other facilities.
The plan incorporates what was seen as a critical requirement for accessibility - getting needs met where people can get to the resources conveniently.
This all happened in the last two years, when state support for the hospital was reduced dramatically, and “we didn’t have a credit card,” as access to capital dried up, Barwis said.
In a complicated financial scheme, the net effect of a state “provider tax” that includes a hospital tax and supplemental payments has cost the hospital over $3 million in each of the past two fiscal years, and led to a loss of more than $6 million last year.
Those are big numbers for a nonprofit charitable organization to make up, in an environment requiring innovation and investment.
Barwis credits the local legislative delegation - state Sen. Henry Martin and Reps. Whit Betts and Cara Pavalock-D’Amato - for keeping the situation from being even worse, especially this year. The net cost to the hospital is set to drop to $600,000 in the current-year budget that started Oct. 1.
With Bristol being “one of the lowest-cost” hospitals in the state, the struggles with state financing are hard to understand, Barwis says. But the situation led to another decision.
“We had to ‘grow over’ what the state had taken away, Barwis said. “Like any other startup,” it took commitment to make big moves, and although it’s “difficult to scale growth” in a big institution, the hospital is on track to profitability, a requirement for sustainability.
A big part of the effort is to have an ever-growing list of providers at the hospital, and in the field, as part of the Bristol Hospital Multi-Specialty Group - now close to 100 strong. That group is scheduled to reach $30 million in revenue from $5 million only a dozen years ago, with roughly two dozen doctors. It was the most profitable of any segment of the hospital in October.
“That’s a lot of jobs [in the community],” Barwis said, referring to the personnel and outside services needed to support the group.
There was a clear need for neurological services, the survey said, since a specialty group had closed in New Britain and a Bristol practitioner retired. So they recruited Dr. Cari Pattari, a leader in the field, and created a new team.
Rheumatology and primary care were other areas that needed more resources - and Dr. Archana Sharma and Dr. Nandini Menon were hired.
The new Southington facility at 98 Main St., for example, will cover specialties including primary care, sports medicine, podiatry, general surgery, psychiatry urology and pulmonary medicine.
The right tools for the job are increasingly important to recruit those “rock stars.” Implementing the da Vinci XI surgical robot, adding world-class breast imaging equipment and locating reconstruction tools in the operating room were some of the latest improvements.
“We’ve never shortchanged on the technology,” Barwis said. “We get the best of the best - we don’t skimp.”
That technology and the people behind it - including Kai Hans Hammerich, medical director, urologic robotic surgeries, formerly of the National Institutes of Health - allow cutting-edge procedures that recently would have had to go elsewhere. Like the four prostatectomies - prostate removals - performed in the last three months.
“We hadn’t done a prostatectomy here in 10 years,” Barwis said.
Quality is another area in which the hospital hasn’t cut back. A good sign is that it hasn’t had a reportable safety event in more than 18 months.
The Joint Commission, the country’s leading accreditor of health care organizations, named the hospital a 2017 Pioneer in Quality - one of 480 recognized nationwide.
Barwis gets animated when he boasts of a 99 percent satisfaction rating from those served in the emergency center, when 90 percent would be a cause for celebration on the government-required HCAHPS survey.
“Our investments are starting pay off,” he says with a smile.
Michael Schroeder can be reached at mschroeder@BristolPress.com or 860-225-4601. Follow him on Twitter: @mschroederBP.