By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune staff writer
Six months into the integration with the Community Health Network, Community Howard Regional Health is working on a plan to become more of a regional health center.
Community Health and Howard Regional merged last July with the process expected to be completed by the end of the year. One of the key components of the merger was the commitment from Community Health to continue providing critical services in Kokomo and to expand the service area to the surrounding counties.
Jim Alender, CEO of Community Howard Regional, said the hospital is working with a firm in Chicago to define the needs of the region in terms of demographics and access to primary care needs.
A plan to make Community Howard a regional medical center for the five adjacent counties is expected to be presented to the board of directors at Community Health and Community Howard in February, he said.
“A time line will be presented to the two boards,” Alender said. “We’re starting to transform to a regional medical facility and working on that plan. We want to see what the medical needs are and how it can be augmented as a part of our health care network.”
Alender said when Howard Regional started looking for a partner it wanted to continue to provide primary and urgent care services in Kokomo and not just stabilize patients and transport them to Indianapolis.
As part of the regional health care network, Community Howard is increasing the cardiology program and working to be accredited through MD Anderson as an oncology center.
“It will be a real plus for Howard, but a real win for people in this region,” Alender said. “We will be affiliated with the finest oncology center in the U.S.”
Community Howard is starting the process of looking where to place urgent care centers in the region as part of health care reform and lowered costs, he said.
Alender said the hospital has a plan to expand those outreach services starting this year and extending through 2015.
“We have not seen an increase of patients from surrounding counties ... we look for it to grow,” he said. “77 percent of our patients come from Howard County. We want to work with facilities in the surrounding counties to provide primary care and specialty services.”
Alender said Community Howard wants to partner with hospital in Tipton, Peru and Logansport to provide services for unmet needs in the region.
Since the July 1 integration, Alender said managed care and supply chain management has been transferred to Community Health. He said employees in Kokomo are now employed by Community Health.
He said there is improved employee benefits while at the same time managing costs.
Alender said as promised there has been no reduction in staffing levels at Community Howard. He said there are currently an estimated 1,300 employees with 59 positions open. At the time of the integration the hospital employed approximately 1,200 people.
“We have integrated as far as we can in terms of employees and processes at this point in time,” Alender said. “We are aggressively moved through the integration process. The strategy is going to be high quality health care at a lower cost and growth for Community Howard.”
Alender said there is a standardization of processes taking place between the network and the local hospital.
“I have been very pleased by the level of joint cooperation in working towards a mutually beneficial goal,” Bryan Mills, CEO of Community Health Network, said. “We’ve identified many opportunities for both expansion of Community Howard Regional’s mission, in North Central Indiana, and achievement of operational efficiencies.”