In an effort to stay ahead of the “unprecedented change and transformation” in health care, Wyoming Medical Center unveiled Wednesday the broad strokes of a strategic plan to guide the institution in the years to come.
The announcement comes 12 months after the hospital made its most significant move in recent years: acquiring east Casper competitor Mountain View Regional. This new strategic plan, crafted by the board of trustees and boiled down to four “strategic drivers,” hints at a possible affiliation agreement with a “like-minded institution” at some point in the future, as well as potential infrastructure changes.
“Of particular importance to the Board is working to keep and grow access to high-quality care close to home,” Jessica Oden, WMC’s board chairwoman said in a statement. “To move healthcare forward, the Board will be considering the options and opportunities available to us to expand our ability to bring new resources and services into our community and our state.”
The four strategic drivers listed on the site are “advanced clinical coordination; improved business infrastructure; long-term commitment to our community for quality healthcare; and local customization and respect for our history and who we are.”
The plan is the latest shift under new CEO Michele Chulick, who has hired a handful of new administrators and steered WMC across the finish line with the Mountain View acquisition since she took over in the summer of 2017. When she was initially hired, she told the Star-Tribune that she was interested in collaborating with other health care providers, both locally and regionally.
In an email to media, WMC spokeswoman Mandy Cepeda said the hospital would not be providing any interviews. But the press release and an accompanying, newly-launched website about the strategic plan both offer clues. For instance, Oden’s comment about keeping care close to home — and preventing it from leaving the state — has been a goal of Wyoming health providers and policymakers for some time. The high cost of care here often drives patients to seek treatment in neighboring states.
The mention of a potential affiliation lends more credence to the hospital trying to cut health costs. Health policy experts told the Star-Tribune recently that smaller hospitals partnering with larger health systems is a prime way to cut pricing. If WMC were to affiliate with another organization, it would follow in the footsteps of competitors like Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and Laramie’s Ivinson Memorial Hospital, which have both announced agreements to work with Colorado giant UC Health in recent years.
The option is attractive: Among other things, affiliations with health system heavyweights like UC allow smaller facilities like WMC to get cheaper equipment and have access to services they may not be able to provide or afford themselves.
Still, whether WMC pursues a big brother like UC or plays the role of older sibling — partnering with a smaller Wyoming facility — remains to be seen. The hospital is just beginning to explore the option, it said in its press release.
“No specific decisions have been made today and the focus, as always, is on delivering the highest quality care for the patients who count on us each and every day,” Chulick said in the statement.
The point mentioning infrastructure is tantalizing as well, especially if it’s referring to physical buildings. WMC already has a sprawling presence across town, from its new east campus (née Mountain View) to the mothership in central Casper to its two family care clinics, Mesa on the west side and Sage on 12th and Conwell streets.
The hospital is certainly right in noting the shifting health care landscape. Locally, WMC has consolidated much of the local care. Nationally, policy changes in Washington have the potential to profoundly impact the entire health care system, which accounts for nearly a fifth of the nation’s economy.
In any case, don’t expect changes to begin tomorrow.
“Nothing is changing today, and no decisions have been made,” the website states. “Our number one priority is providing high-quality, exceptional care to our patients and the communities we serve.”