NEWBURYPORT — Anna Jaques Hospital has seen a softening in demand for medical services this year, but a maximizing of its purchasing power and a growing reputation for quality and caring has kept the institution on solid footing.
Officials were happy to report at their annual meeting yesterday that despite "surprises" on the revenue side, brought on by enormous changes taking place within the national health care environment, the city's home-grown community health center has continued a five-year trend of ending the year firmly in the black. And with the expectation that things are going to get even tougher, they said Anna Jaques is positioning itself to reap the benefits of a very dramatic overhaul of the country's health care system, which is already sending shock waves through the health care industry.
"It has been a good period for Anna Jaques, but it is about to get a lot tougher," said Anna Jaques President and CEO Delia O'Connor.
At a meeting with 150 stakeholders, employees and community members at the Blue Ocean Music Hall yesterday, O'Connor touted some of the biggest achievements at Anna Jaques in the past year, including its ability to continue to boost patient satisfaction numbers in the emergency room and birth center, and to cut costs in simple ways that have made a significant difference in the hospital's bottom line.
"Most people don't care if the rubber gloves they're wearing are one brand over the other," said O'Connor of the "by comparison" cost-cutting measures doctors and nursing staff instituted as a means of doing their part. "They know that's money we can put back into the hospital. They want us to do well."
This year, the hospital will begin work on a major capital project, building 15 private hospital rooms in a new wing, installing a new energy-efficient power plant to replace the aging one currently in use and rebuilding the entrance to beautify the hospital campus.
And in the spirit of an "all hands on deck" approach, employees have signed on to cost-cutting measures that have made their hospital more secure and able to reinvest in the campus to make it a more viable institution. It's generally understood that in the future, with little growth expected in the commonwealth, hospitals like Anna Jaques will be forced to lure patients away from other hospitals if they want to stay solid.
"If we want more business, it's going to have to come from other hospitals," said George Ellison Jr., chairman of the board, in an interview with The Daily News.
Forty-two percent of the hospital's employees have signed on to a health care plan that offers them incentives for meeting certain health criteria — being non-smokers, maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI), and controlling their blood pressure and cholesterol. As a result, the hospital has been able to trim what would have been an 11 percent annual increase to its health care costs for the past three years to just a 5 percent increase annually over that time period.
"It's cut it in half at least," CFO Mark Goldstein said of health costs.
All told, Ellison notes the hospital has shown a gain from operations of $2,553,200, exceeding a budgeted gain of $2,468,000 and yielding a 2.33 percent operating margin.
"Part of our financial success is based on the continued refinement of operations to meet changing market dynamics," Ellison said. "However, it is safe to say that we have never seen anything like the dramatic changes facing us as a result of health care reform."
Offering agreement with the sentiments of Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, who spoke at yesterday's annual meeting, Ellison alluded this week to a future where visits to hospitals will be markedly reduced. He noted in his annual report letter that one of Massachusetts' largest insurers has developed a plan that charges big fees for those seeking care at expensive hospitals and incentives to visit lower-cost facilities.
"Anna Jaques is that lower-cost hospital, while at the same time achieving high, measurable quality standards and very good patient satisfaction," he wrote.
"I think if you look at the history of the Anna Jaques, five to six years ago the future was a little uncertain," Goldstein said.
But that's not the case today, because of efforts made to improve client satisfaction and quality of care, he said. Recently, the hospital added high-risk ultrasound and genetic counseling to its list of services and formed an affiliation with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which serves as the teaching hospital for Harvard University. That affiliation should give patients diagnosed with cancer and other ailments the added comfort of knowing that when treated at the community hospital where they feel comfortable, their doctors here will be consulting with one of the most reputable clinics in the country on their treatment, O'Connor said.
"They want a stable institution, but they also want really good care and to feel treasured," O'Connor said. "Those are the characteristics of a community hospital that we want to make sure survive and thrive for generations to come."
On a recent visit to the hospital to discuss details of the hospital's year in review, O'Connor's point was illustrated with the interruption of a soft Brahms lullaby over the loudspeaker. It was a short, soothing melody piped in over the hospital's building-wide sound system that roused one's curiosity.
"That means a baby was just born," O'Connor said with a smile.
"It happens 700 times a year," explained CFO Mark Goldstein.
While large teaching hospitals from Boston enjoy a reputation for having excellent care, O'Connor said it's the fact that a nurse takes the time to announce the arrival of a little one into the world over a loudspeaker that sets Anna Jaques apart.
"(Bigger hospitals) just aren't the kinds of places where you're going to hear a lullaby every time a baby is born," O'Connor said.