AVH pursues affiliation
Aspen Valley Hospital is two years into negotiations on a deal to “affiliate” with the Cleveland Clinic, a multispecialty center considered one of the top medical organizations in the U.S.The deal, according hospital board member John Jellinek, is an effort by the hospital to make use of state-of-the-art electronic record-keeping, diagnostic and consultancy technology, without having to put out the vast amounts of money required if the hospital were to create its own.”A system like this, if you were to buy it, would be about six and a half million bucks,” Jellinek said in an interview Wednesday. “This is a big deal, if we get it done.”Jellinek said that he, Chief Executive Officer David Ressler and a couple of doctors flew to Cleveland two weeks ago to meet with clinic executives and work on the deal. They made the trip in Jellinek’s private jet, “at no expense to the hospital district,” he said.Ressler and Aspen Valley Hospital Board Chairman John Sarpa were both out of town and could not be reached for comment about this article.Jellinek said negotiations with the Cleveland Clinic started in 2004, when the hospital was struggling to pull itself out of a financial hole caused by mismanagement under the previous administration.”We’ve been working on this for two years,” he said, “but when we were broke, there was nothing to talk about.” Early negotiations suffered the same fate that killed an earlier effort at affiliation with the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, Jellinek said. Once officials of the larger hospital learned of the poor financial picture in Aspen, they pulled the plug on any affiliation.But now, Jellinek said, Aspen Valley Hospital is back on its financial feet, with a cash balance of $22 million and a list of accounts receivable that is down to 80 days on the collectible column, compared to the situation several years ago, when the hospital was facing losses in the millions of dollars and an accounts-receivable list that stretched out for years in some cases.As the hospital’s finances improve, he said, “We have a responsibility … to reinvest in systems and medical support.”Plus, he said, legislation now before Congress may make it possible for the hospital to work more closely with doctors by exempting medical records and consulting technology from a decade-old antitrust law. That law, known as the Stark legislation, outlawed alliances between hospitals and doctors as a way of preventing too-cozy relationships that might not be in the best interests of the public. Jellinek said the Cleveland Clinic already is affiliated with a group of local doctors, Orthopedic Associates of Aspen and Glenwood Springs, and that AVH has been sending certain nonemergency cardiac care cases to Cleveland for diagnosis and treatment.According to Jellinek, the clinic offers software services for an electronic medical records system that would replace the outdated paper records in use at AVH. All patient-related data would be stored electronically and available to all doctors in the valley, regardless of whether they are formally part of the hospital medical staff.Jellinek said the clinic is making the system available at a “minimal fee” of $600 per “user,” and added that “the hospital may be willing to underwrite that cost … to make it available to the doctors for nothing, because we think it’s something important.”In addition, he said, the clinic has an “electronic e-consulting” system that would link to AVH and provide local patients a chance to consult with specialists in Cleveland.”It’s basically like talking to a leading clinician in the world” about your specific medical problem, Jellinek said.One way the new medical records system will help patients, Jellinek said, is that any patient with records in the system can be admitted to the hospital. The current rules require patients to have a local primary-care physician with privileges at AVH before admission. Many second-home owners and other nonlocals end up using the emergency room for nonemergency medical needs as a result, because they did not have a local primary-care physician.”They think that we’re terrific,” Jellinek said of the Cleveland Clinic officials working on the deal. The clinic also is working on similar arrangements with hospitals in Palm Beach, Fla., and Malibu, Calif.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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