FAIRMONT - Three new providers are practicing at Mayo Clinic Health System-Fairmont, and three more have signed on to start in 2013.
Local and regional leaders in the Mayo system are hailing a recently launched hospitalist model as a primary reason for the facility's recruitment success.
Previously, physicians cared for their patients in the clinic and the hospital, a setup that made it difficult to take time off without being on call and created scheduling conflicts if a provider needed to be in more than one place at a time. Under the new model, separate hospital physicians provide round-the-clock care for hospitalized adult patients. Part of their duties include keeping patients' primary care providers informed about their well-being.
Speaking from her own personal experience, Dr. Marie Morris, chief medical officer at the Fairmont site, said the hospitalists have improved her work conditions.
"I have been able to focus more of my time and attention, for the most part, in the clinic. I'm not trying to be in three places at the same time," she said.
With that said, Morris had to leave during an interview Thursday to deliver a baby, as the hospitalists do not work in the birthing unit, which has actually been a point of confusion in the community as the public adapts to the new model.
When the facility announced the switch to the hospitalist program, leaders in the organization gave assurances the change would be vital in recruiting physicians. According to Greg Kutcher, CEO of Mayo's Southwest Minnesota Region, it is working, but most of the real change is yet to come.
"We're building the model, and we've got people coming, and it's only going to get better," he said.
Fairmont site administrator Bob Bartingale is excited about what's happened so far, how quickly it's happened - the new model was launched in June - and the possibilities for the future. An added bonus is the local ties the new physicians have to southern Minnesota. Dr. Sundara Nalla, family medicine, is originally from Worthington; Dr. Luke Madsen, a podiatrist, is a Fairmont native; Dr. Timothy Slama, also family medicine, is from Winnebago. (And several more who aren't local are considering the move to Fairmont.)
"That's what is so exciting to myself," Bartingale said. "Not only are we getting these great new professionals, but most are from this area."
That's no small accomplishment, according to Rich Grace, the region's chief administrative officer, due to the shortage of primary care physicians.
"I don't care what community you're in, it's tough," he said. "We're talking about a pool that's really small, and it's only declining."
While the medical center is touting its successes, there is still grumbling in the community about provider turnover - the behavioral health department is losing two clinical nurse specialists. Bartingale said both women are leaving "strictly for personal reasons," not because of dissatisfaction with the Mayo site.
No psychiatrists are staffed locally, but that is not a surprise to anyone familiar with the rarity of these health care professionals and the difficulty recruiting them, particularly in rural settings - a scenario that can be seen across the country.
In the future, Mayo leaders want to implement a rapid access system that will allow primary care providers to immediately refer patients for behavioral health. Often, Kutcher said, these physicians are the ones patients divulge any mental or emotional problems they're having, and it's often at appointments for completely unrelated health issues.
The medical center is also working on reaching outside its walls to partner with other agencies in the community, from schools to law enforcement, to nursing homes. It's a necessary step, leaders say, particularly with the coming enforcement of the federal Affordable Healthcare Act.
All these changes are bound to create stress, and they're compounded in some ways by rapidly advancing technology. Electronic medical records are supposed to be a boon for increasing patient safety, but the electronic age is more welcomed by some than others.
"It has not improved efficiency like people wanted," Kutcher said, acknowledging Mayo is still working out some kinks with coordinating information between sites.
"One problem is we tried to customize it too much," he said, which in retrospect was not practical with the 1,000-plus providers Mayo employs.
"We're learning as an organization," Kutcher said. "... I can guarantee it's the same everywhere."
When patients have concerns about these issues and others, or complaints about the care they have received, administration encourages people to say something.
"We encourage people to speak up," Kutcher said. "Absolutely we want to hear about it, ideally at the point of care, in real time."
But speaking up during an appointment isn't easy for everyone. To question a provider, to ask to talk to their supervisor, is intimidating for many. An alternative is to call the Mayo Clinic Compliance Hotline, a means of reporting suspected violation of Mayo policy, regulations or laws, at (888) 721-5391; or call the Fairmont site at (507)?238-8100 and ask to be transferred to administration, where staff can assist with addressing concerns.
"Some of the most significant changes come from patient complaints," Kutcher said.