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Keroack/My Turn: Health care overview

While I’ve spent considerable time in Franklin County in my two years as president of Baystate Medical Practices, I will step into a much more prominent role this July as the new CEO of Baystate Health. So I’d like to introduce myself, and share my perspective on the changing health care environment.

I grew up in Western Massachusetts and come from a medical family. My dad was an old-fashioned family doctor, with an office right in our house in East Springfield, and my mom was a nurse who trained at Springfield Hospital in the 1940s. I guess it is no surprise, then, that all four of my brothers and I went into medicine in diverse fields across New England.

I practiced as an infectious-disease specialist for 20 years, providing hospital care for patients with complex infections and helping a large practice of patients with HIV and AIDS manage what was then a devastating illness. As much as I loved caring for individual patients, I became increasingly engaged in the important work of making health care work better — improving quality and safety, and leading groups of physicians to better collaborate and provide better care.

Throughout my journey, I believe I have maintained a steady internal compass: What’s best for patients is what’s most important.

I am stepping into this leadership role at a time of unprecedented change in health care. While health care reform has had its bumps during implementation, we in Massachusetts have had a six-year preview of how near-universal coverage works; and even the most hardened skeptic would have to say it has been good for the commonwealth. It has also brought challenges for providers: Funding for the newly insured largely comes from squeezing reimbursements to hospitals and doctors, forcing us to manage costs more carefully than ever.

Still, we as an organization agree with the notion that everyone deserves access to good healthcare. We’re pleased to have settled contracts with the Massachusetts Nurses Association in two important areas of our system. And we are more committed than ever to a vibrant and well-coordinated system of care for our community, close to home, up and down the Pioneer Valley.

It’s a team approach — as we call it, an integrated system of care.

These days, primary care practices increasingly operate as “medical homes,” where clinicians team up with support staff to make sure that your care is coordinated — that all needed preventive care is provided and that chronic problems receive prompt and regular follow-up. This keeps people healthier and reduces the need for hospitalization.

Baystate’s community hospitals deliver a broad range of services with equivalent outcomes, lower costs and a better patient experience than larger hospitals. And when highly specialized care is required, Baystate Medical Center consistently ranks among the top teaching hospitals in America.

Contrary to some recent rhetoric, there is no plan to transfer patients to Springfield who don’t need to be there. Providing outstanding local care at our community hospitals and outstanding advanced specialty care in Springfield is the best way to use our limited resources. It’s best for patients, and it just makes sense.

That’s why we’ll continue to invest, here in Greenfield and across our system, from medical practices to community hospitals. At Baystate Franklin, the past few years have seen over $20 million in investments, and the recruitment of over 30 physicians and 15 advanced practitioners.

Recruitment or deployment from Springfield of additional hard-to-find specialists continues, and plans are advancing for a $25 million investment in new operating rooms at BFMC. Access to care at our Franklin County practices is among the best in our organization, and our providers here have earned recognitions for quality and safety that are the envy of colleagues at the other campuses.

As a not-for-profit organization, Baystate Health is driven first and foremost by its mission. A big part of that, these days, is contributing to the community by advancing health beyond the walls of the hospital or doctor’s office. For 2013, Baystate Franklin recorded $2 million in community benefit spending for the people of Franklin County. Our partners include the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, Community Action, the YMCA in Greenfield, United Way of Franklin County, Greenfield Community College, MotherWoman, Clinical & Support Options, The Literacy Project, and many more. I am particularly proud, today, of our partnership with local law enforcement and community leaders in tackling the growing problem of opiate abuse.

Even as we prepare to say goodbye to BFMC president Chuck Gijanto, whose leadership and contributions are widely recognized across the region, it’s clear that Baystate Health is not only here to stay in Franklin County — we’re here to grow, and we’re here to serve, and we’re here to transform and improve health care. I look forward to meeting many more of you in the weeks and months to come and to hearing from you about how we are doing and how we can work more closely together to advance this community’s health in the broadest sense of the word.

Dr. Mark Keroack is presently the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Baystate Health and president and CEO of Baystate Medical Center; as of July, he will be the health system’s new president and CEO.

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