President’s Update for Dec. 23, 2011

In this edition...

In this edition …

Federal budget update: Congress last week finally approved the “Megabus,” a spending bill that contained the final nine (of 12 total) appropriations bills for federal fiscal year 2012.

  • The 1,221-page, $915 billion spending bill, HR 2055, passed 296-121 in the House on Friday, Dec. 16, and 67-32 in the Senate on Saturday, Dec. 17.
  • The act included a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government through today, Friday, Dec. 23, while technical details of the behemoth legislation were completed.
  • President Obama signed the bill TODAY!
  • According to the National Indian Health Board, the bill funds the Indian Health Service at $4.31 billion, an increase of 6 percent over the FY 2011 levels.
    • It includes $3.08 billion for total clinical services, including $845 million for contract health services.
    • It also funds contract support costs at $472 million, this is a $74 million dollar increase to the IHS Contract Support Costs over last year; typically, Alaska sees about one-third of this amount we will be working over the next few weeks to figure out more precisely how much of this increase will reach SEARHC. Any increase will be a bonus as our FY12 SEARHC budget was built on the assumption of no increases from our compact funds;
    • It funds preventive health at $147 million and
    • It funds Indian health facilities at $441 million.
  • In other parts of the budget, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saw modest increases of about 1 percent. The bill also increases funding for veterans’ health care, especially for homeless veterans and the unique needs of female veterans of the Middle East wars. It also allows veterans in Alaska to use their local tribal health network to receive Veterans Affairs health services if there is no VA facility in their community. This spending bill will fund our government through the end of FY 2012, which started on Oct. 1, 2011, and ends on Sept. 30, 2012. The federal government has been operating on a series of continuing resolutions since the start of the fiscal year, which means SEARHC has received its federal money in small doses instead of one lump sum. With the passage of this bill, we should finally receive the rest of our annual funds as one lump payment, most likely in January.

Back to top

Congressional tax cut standoff ends, preventing 27.4-percent cut in Medicare reimbursements: While Congress finally passed the fiscal year 2012 budget, there still is one key issue left to be resolved before the year ended. Congress was in a standoff over the renewal of a payroll tax cut due to expire on Dec. 31 that would mean the loss of about $1,000 in income for individuals who make $50,000 a year. Linked to this debate is what’s known as the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), the formula for physician reimbursement rates under Medicare.

If Congress didn’t approve the tax cut bill, then the SGR wouldn’t be renewed. That meant there would be a Medicare payment cut of 27.4 percent taking effect Jan. 18 if Congress didn’t resolve the issue. Passing the SGR has bipartisan support and the support of many medical organizations, such as the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The Senate passed a two-month extension of the tax cut before it went into its holiday recess last week (to give it time to resolve the tax cut and SGR issues after the new year), but the GOP-led House wasn’t going to pass the extension unless the Senate returned to Washington. After several days of limbo, the House finally agreed on Thursday, Dec. 22, to pass the extension. Had the extension not passed, many health professionals would have been heavily impacted by this Medicare cut, and there were worries that some providers would stop taking Medicare patients if the cuts went through. The impact on SEARHC may be less than it is for many private practices, since most of our Medicare payments are based on a different fee structure.

Back to top

SEARHC S’áxt’ Hít Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital gets new ATM: A new automatic teller machine is being installed at S’áxt’ Hít Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital this week, giving the hospital its first ATM in about a year. Sitka’s ALPS Federal Credit Union is hosting the new ATM. Sitka residents who have accounts at ALPS will be able to make free transactions on the machine, and all non-ALPS members will have to pay $2 (less than the $3 charged by the previous machine). ALPS is investigating various partnership opportunities with other financial networks to see if there are ways the partnerships can eliminate some of the user fees. The machine is in place, and workers hope to have it connected later this week.

Back to top

SEARHC Health Promotion pilots new conflict resolution program: Conflicts in the workplace are inevitable and when they aren’t managed well they can contribute to big problems — sleepless nights, strained relationships, decreased health outcomes, reduced efficiency and even staff turnover. According to a recent study, it is estimated that U.S. companies spend more than 2.8 hours a week addressing work place conflicts, which equates to approximately $359 billion in paid hours a year. SEARHC is certainly not immune from these costs, which is why in 2011 SEARHC Health Promotion managers researched, selected and then implemented a comprehensive six-month conflict resolution program by CRM Learning. The program is built on a four-step process and a fitting acronym — CALM which stands for Clarify the issue, Address the problem, Listen to the other side and Manage your way to resolution. The pilot included, a pre-test, an initial three-hour training, follow up educational e-mails, supplemental books, reminder cards, a make-up training and a booster session before the post tests were completed. The result of our pilot was positive. As one staffer put it, “I think it’s a great tool.” A post-project survey revealed that 75 percent of respondents reported using the CALM tool at least once, 32 percent reported using it three or more times. The Employee Wellness team is now offering this conflict resolution training to other teams and departments throughout SEARHC. For more information contact Doug Osborne at 966-8734.

Back to top

Juneau Behavioral Health Clinic staff takes EFT training: Clinic staff at the SEARHC Juneau Behavioral Health Clinic took part in a presentation led by Sitka resident David Kanosh about EFT, also known as Emotional Freedom Technique. EFT is used for stress relief, chronic pain management, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other disorders. It involves a series of tapping points, where patients use their fingers to tap along several of the body’s meridians that also are used in acupuncture. The half-day presentation involved 10 clinic staff members, who learned the basics of EFT and then practiced tapping for conditions such as arthritis pain, feelings of being overwhelmed, migraines and other issues. This technique is a good tool for our pain management program, because many times people can use EFT to drop their pain levels down to where they don’t need medication.

Back to top

Holiday clinic closures announced: All SEARHC health care facilities will be closed on Monday, Dec. 26, for Christmas and on Monday, Jan. 2, for New Year’s. These closures are so SEARHC employees can spend time with their families during the holidays. The SEARHC Ethel Lund Medical Center in Juneau will offer reduced Saturday services on Dec. 24 (open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. instead of 10-5), and regular Saturday services on Dec. 31. The Juneau clinic will not offer its normal Sunday services (noon to 4 p.m.) on Dec. 25 or Jan. 1. The SEARHC urgent care department at S’áxt’ Hít Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 24 and Dec. 31, for walk-in patients. But all other regular Saturday clinics offered at SEARHC facilities throughout the consortium will be closed on Saturday, Dec. 24 and Dec. 31. In addition, SEARHC will have staff working during the holidays to take care of any inpatients staying at the hospital in Sitka, and there will be 24-hour emergency room staff available at the hospital during the holidays. All SEARHC village clinics that normally provide off-hour emergency services will have staff on call during the holidays. SEARHC wishes everybody a safe and happy holiday season.

Back to top

Anchorage patient advocate recruiting: The Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) is recruiting an Anchorage-based patient advocate who will work with KANA and SEARHC patients seeking care at the Alaska Native Medical Center. The patient advocate will be based with the Customer Experience staff at the Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC). This position is shared by KANA and SEARHC, with supervision from KANA. The patient advocate serves as a customer liaison for KANA and SEARHC patients who travel to Anchorage to receive care at ANMC. The patient advocate helps patients and their families use and navigate the Alaska Tribal Health Care System. The patient advocate also ensures patients receive the highest quality health care possible and are satisfied with the care provided. To learn more about the open position and its job requirements, go to http://www.kanaweb.org/html/jobs.php and scroll down to the Patient Advocate job listing. Applications are due by Friday, Jan. 6. For more information, contact the KANA Human Resources Department at 907-486-9800 (in Kodiak) or send an e-mail to hr@kanaweb.org. For now, SEARHC and KANA patients who need help while seeking treatment at ANMC or the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium should call the main number at the ANMC Customer Experience department (729-3990) to receive support. Once the KANA/SEARHC patient advocate for Anchorage is hired, a new release will be issued with the direct number for assistance.

Back to top

Just a reminder …

SEARHC patient advocates serve as customer liaisons: SEARHC has three patient advocates in Southeast Alaska — Bryan Whitson (Sitka), Ashley Hunt (Juneau) and Cyndi Reeves (POW) — who serve as customer service liaisons between patients and SEARHC, and help patients navigate their way through SEARHC’s health system. SEARHC and the Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) share an Anchorage-based patient advocate, who serves SEARHC and KANA patients receiving care at the Alaska Native Medical Center. (NOTE: The SEARHC/KANA position currently is under recruitment and patients can call the Alaska Native Medical Center Customer Experience Department at 729-3990 until it is filled.) Patients living in Sitka, Angoon, Kake, Pelican, Tenakee Springs, Yakutat, Petersburg and Wrangell should contact Bryan Whitson at 966-8860. Patients in Juneau, Haines, Skagway, Klukwan and Hoonah should contact Ashley Hunt at 463-6656. Patients in Klawock, Craig, Hydaburg, Kasaan, Thorne Bay and other POW communities should contact Cyndi Reeves at 755-4983 (965-0040, cell). Patients traveling to Anchorage for care should contact the patient advocate at 729-3992 (942-5867, cell).

Back to top

SEARHC adds 24/7 on-call travel coordinators: Are you a SEARHC patient who needs after-hours help while traveling for a medical appointment? SEARHC now has a 24/7 on-call travel number. A staff person is on call to help you when your flight has been diverted due to weather or you need late-night help with housing. For assistance, call 1-800-916-8566 (toll-free in Alaska) or 1-907-966-8345 in Sitka and follow the prompts for assistance. To help us better help you, please call as soon as you can get to a phone after you know your flight has been changed.

Back to top

SEARHC hosts 24/7 crisis help line, toll-free at 1-877-294-0074: A personal or family crisis doesn’t always happen during clinic hours, so the SEARHC Behavioral Health Division has contracted with a crisis call center to provide help for Southeast Alaska residents when they need it most. The SEARHC Help Line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it will be staffed with a team of master’s-degree-level mental health therapists who will listen and provide effective, compassionate care. This line provides confidential telephone counseling for people during a time of mental health crisis, and it is not just an answering service. The counselors will assess the situation and provide appropriate intervention using protocols developed with SEARHC Behavioral Health. Follow-up calls from SEARHC Behavioral Health or our partner agencies will be made the next business day. For more information, contact SEARHC Behavioral Health/Suicide Prevention Program Manager Wilbur Brown at 966-8753.

Back to top

Ken Truitt SEARHC Interim President/CEO