Health & Family

Carolinas HealthCare says it’s giving patients more choice in spending health care dollars

Carolinas HealthCare System NorthEast will embark on a $141.4 million project to expand and consolidate cardiac services.
Carolinas HealthCare System NorthEast will embark on a $141.4 million project to expand and consolidate cardiac services. Courtesy of Carolinas HealthCare System

Carolinas HealthCare System CEO Michael Tarwater said Tuesday that Charlotte’s largest hospital system has positioned itself to take advantage of the move toward patients becoming more active in choosing how and where to spend their health care dollars.

More people have insurance since passage of the Affordable Care Act, he said. But many people have high-deductible plans that leave them on the hook for more of the cost of their care. Tarwater said some “paying customers” give more weight to the “lowest out-of-pocket expense,” while others “might be swayed by a really convenient location.”

“Our mantra going forward is going to be making things easier for our customers,” Tarwater told members of the hospital system board at their quarterly meeting.

In recent years, he said, Carolinas HealthCare has worked to spread its locations across the region. It has built urgent care centers, freestanding emergency departments, and “destination centers,” including clusters of primary care doctors, pediatricians and internists, that make care more accessible, he said. The system also offers “virtual” appointments that allow patients to speak to physicians through their mobile devices or computers.

“Sometimes the things that we do, we don’t really know how successful they are for years,” Tarwater said. But today, those projects “are really opening the doors of access for people who may not have chosen us before. ... They’re really starting to get traction now.”

Patient visits to the hospital system’s Medical Group – 175 doctor practices in 408 Greater Charlotte-area locations – increased 11.5 percent in the first six months of 2015 over the same period last year, the hospital system reported. Inpatient discharges, a measure of patient volume, from the system’s 18 Greater Charlotte hospitals, increased by 8.6 percent.

Carolinas HealthCare’s “primary enterprise,” including facilities in the Greater Charlotte area, spent $115.9 million, or 4 percent of net operating revenue, on construction projects and other improvements during the first six months of 2015, the system reported.

For the first six months of the year, net operating revenue for the primary enterprise was more than $2.6 billion, an increase of 13 percent over last year. For the entire system, which includes managed hospitals across the Carolinas, net operating revenue for the first six months of 2015 was $4.4 billion, an increase from $4.1 billion last year at the same time.

Also on Tuesday, the hospital system board:

▪ Approved a $141.4 million project to expand and consolidate cardiac services at the system’s 457-bed hospital in Concord, Carolinas HealthCare System NorthEast. The project includes a new three-story building, for inpatient and outpatient services. Sixty beds will be relocated from other parts of the hospital for the new building.

The project also includes renovation of a three-story, 90-bed section of the existing hospital and the addition of more than 30 beds for “observation.”

Dennis Phillips, executive vice president for the system’s Greater Charlotte hospitals, said a larger project – with a seven-story building at a cost of $264 million – was first proposed in 2008 but then postponed after the recession. In subsequent years, the hospital system has gone ahead with other projects at NorthEast, including construction of a medical office building, renovation of women’s services, and construction of a new rehabilitation center. To relieve pressure on NorthEast’s emergency department and attract new patients, the hospital system also opened two freestanding emergency departments in nearby Kannapolis and Harrisburg. Phillips said these projects will help NorthEast remain “the tertiary hub for the northern region.”

▪ Heard a report from Albert McAulay Jr., chairman of the search committee for a CEO to replace Tarwater, who has announced he’ll be retiring next June.

The board has hired Witt/Kieffer, an executive search firm based in Oakbrook, Ill., and McAulay asked board members to be available to speak with the firm’s representatives as they review candidates. “We want to make sure we have the input of a lot of individuals,” added Board Chairman Edward Brown III. “This is not something that a few people are going to decide.”

Karen Garloch: 704-358-5078, @kgarloch