The recent announcement that Rockingham Memorial Hospital (RMH) in Harrisonburg, Va plans to affiliate with Sentara Healthcare provides an opportunity to elaborate on why Sentara is growing outside of Hampton Roads. Last December, Potomac Hospital in northern Virginia also joined the Sentara family. I welcome The Virginian-Pilot’s invitation to discuss this aspect of the Sentara Strategic Plan, which was approved by our Board of Directors and includes an imperative for growth into new regions by merging with existing providers.
Growth has allowed Sentara to better meet our mission here in Hampton Roads and in every community we serve. Economies of scale, sharing of best practices with rapid deployment of information, and consistent standards of quality are just a few of the advantages shared within Sentara .
Health reform will require that all healthcare providers find ways to improve quality, safety and patient satisfaction, while at the same time reducing overall costs. This is accelerating the consolidation in healthcare that began several years ago when stand-alone hospitals across the country found themselves squeezed by the costs of charity care, new technologies, aging facilities and tighter reimbursements from Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers. To meet these challenges, many stand-alone hospitals have been seeking partnerships with larger integrated systems like Sentara.
RMH and Potomac Hospital decided to associate with a larger system after much thought about their future as stand-alone hospitals in the world of health reform. After rigorous reviews of candidate systems, they chose Sentara. We share a not-for-profit mission and a commitment to excellence. Sentara brings Virginia roots, a national reputation for clinical quality and patient safety and a commitment to electronic medical records to enhance patient care, increase efficiency and control costs.
With consolidation in healthcare a given, the question becomes how will our communities be best served. One only has to recall bank consolidations dating back to the 80s to see how Virginia banks became part of larger banks based in Charlotte, Atlanta and San Francisco. As a result, Virginia lost jobs, management talent and the ability to set the financial standards in our communities. If Virginia health systems do not grow and remain strong, we could face a similar dynamic in healthcare. The Sentara Board of Directors believes that not-for-profit healthcare systems like ours should set the standards of excellence in healthcare and not risk losing the focus on quality and safety that has distinguished care in our region.
Not-for-profit systems have no shareholders to satisfy and no dividends to pay. All funds after expenses are invested in services, technology, facilities and a stable workforce. New reimbursement models under health reform will emphasize quality over quantity and there is a major push to invest in electronic medical records.
On that front, Sentara is years ahead of the curve. We are investing $230 million in the Sentara eCare® Health Network, which is already enhancing patient safety and lowering costs. For example, computerized physician order entry has reduced average delivery time for inpatient medications from more than 1.5 hours to a matter of minutes. More than 30,000 Sentara Medical Group patients have signed up for the MyChart™ patient portal, which empowers them to be partners in their care.
Among the concerns I have heard about our growth strategy is the perceived dilution of resources provided to Hampton Roads, including our charity commitment. Let me say emphatically that those concerns are unfounded.
In 2009, Sentara provided $157.9 million in community support as part of our not-for-profit mission, including the cost of uncompensated medical care for over 140,000 indigent and underinsured patient visits, funding for medical education with Eastern Virginia Medical School, nursing education and financial losses on our voluntary Trauma programs and the Nightingale Regional Air Ambulance. Make no mistake that Sentara is committed to our mission in Hampton Roads and no healthcare provider in the region does more.
Sentara is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors with members from across Virginia. They have designed a strategy to ensure that excellent healthcare continues to be provided in Hampton Roads and in all communities we serve. To keep this commitment, prudent growth outside Hampton Roads is essential. The Sentara Board of Directors feels strongly that being proactive and growing into other regions is one way for Sentara to fulfill our mission to improve health every day and our vision to be the healthcare choice of the communities we serve.