Desert Valley Hospital: Margaret R. Peterson, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer

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With the election past, healthcare organizations are adjusting to the effects of reform. Most organizations agree that having more individuals with insurance improves the health status of communities as a whole, but handling the influx of new patients can be a challenge.

One hospital in the High Desert in California has seen a market shift as reform allows more patients in its market to receive health insurance. The High Desert has a high unemployment rate — about 15 to 18 percent — and many patients previously had no insurance and were not part of the local healthcare system. Now, Desert Valley Hospital is having to reevaluate how it provides care and coordinates with the community to meet the needs of these patients who previously were unknown unless they were in a major crisis.

“We have had a huge market of underinsured and uninsured individuals,” said Chief Executive Officer Margaret Peterson, Ph.D. “These patients are coming in with chronic issues they’ve been living with for some time. They are very sick individuals, and we have to learn to work with them to meet their acute needs and ongoing needs once discharged.”

Desert Valley Hospital is evaluating how to link with the community in order to improve health status so that patients are not arriving at the hospital in dire need without any prior healthcare. Peterson said the hospital has always been active in the community with health promotion and wellness activities and is looking to add more activities to ensure patients have continuing care once they are discharged from the hospital.

Peterson added that she has been impressed with how the staff is handling the change in the type of patients accessing the hospital for care.

“Our physicians, nurses, and staff deliver care to everyone equally,” she said. “I think that speaks highly of our staff. They are willing to do what’s right for the patient every time.”

Adjusting to expansive growth

In addition to handling changes in the patient mix, physicians and staff at Desert Valley Hospital are also adjusting to the challenges involved in becoming a tertiary care center after years of being classified as a community hospital.

In early 2012, the hospital expanded from 83 beds to 148 beds and added an open-heart surgery program.

“The growth has changed the way our staff functions on a day-to-day basis,” Peterson said. “The staff has to have a higher level of responsiveness to handle patients that are very critical.”

This is a large change in the hospital’s relatively short history. Desert Valley Hospital was founded in 1994 by Prem Reddy, M.D. In 2001, the then-failing hospital was bought by Prime Healthcare Services, which was also founded by Dr. Reddy, and turned back into a highly successful organization.

Peterson said the physicians and staff have been handling the shift well, and her goal is to grow the heart-surgery program in the coming year. Peterson also said being an organization that can adapt and change is critical for success in a changing healthcare arena.

“In healthcare today, there is a lot of talk about being a dynamic organization, but healthcare is often the most non-dynamic environment,” she said. “It is hard for us to change the way we do things. We have to be forced before we will make the changes necessary. Today, we are in an environment that is constantly changing and we need to be quick to adapt.”

Measuring up in quality and safety

Desert Valley Hospital has exceptional quality and safety scores, with surgical-site infections, central-line infections, and urinary-catheter infections far below the national average. Furthermore, the hospital has the highest outcomes in its market. After an initiative to reduce ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) cases, the hospital has gone two years without a VAP infection. The hospital is looking to reduce other infections to zero as well.

There has been a national campaign led by the March of Dimes to reduce elective deliveries prior to 39 weeks for non-medical reasons. The hospital has been working collaboratively with obstetricians, nursing staff, and the Hospital Association of Southern California Patient Safety Collaborative to reduce this rate. Desert Valley Hospital just finished 2012 with zero elective deliveries prior to 39 weeks.

In 2013, Desert Valley Hospital was once again rewarded for its efforts by being named one of the nation’s Top 100 Hospitals by Truven Analytics (formerly the healthcare business of Thomson Reuters), now recognizing the hospital as a seven-time winner of this distinguished award. The American Osteopathic Association gave Desert Valley Hospital a score of 99.4 percent of achievable standards for its quality patient care. The organization is a four-time winner of the HealthGrades Patient Safety Excellence Award. It has also been ranked in the Top 10% Hospital Quality Index by PacificCare.

These distinctions encourage Peterson and the medical staff to continue striving for excellence in all areas of care. In the coming years, Desert Valley Hospital looks to streamline procedures, improve care in the community, and further automate the hospital.

Closely connected with the hospital and also owned by Prime Healthcare is the Desert Valley Medical Group, the largest multi-specialty group in the region. The hospital is working with the group to help provide seamless care for patients. Integrating electronic health records between the hospital and group is also a priority for the coming year.

“Integration of the hospital and group operations with the community at large is a big part of our strategic plan,” Peterson said. “We need to make sure we do everything we can to prevent disease and promote health among those that are our patients and those that are residents of our community. It is a further reflection of the care we deliver on a day-to-day basis, which is only going to get better with the new services we offer.”

-by Patricia Chaney

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