By Jeff Tieman
Having arrived last August as the new president and CEO of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, I am still fairly new to Vermont. A few observations so far: 1) this is a wonderful place full of energy and life, 2) the people are kind, smart and passionate, and 3) the hospitals here are deeply rooted in the communities they serve, working hard every day to deliver excellent health care and improve quality of life.
We are fortunate to live in a place that values and supports a not-for-profit network of hospitals large and small. Collectively, these hospitals employ thousands of compassionate, highly-qualified physicians and nurses whose expertise makes possible hospitals’ mission of serving patients and families.
Like health care in other parts of the country, Vermont’s system is not perfect. But it is really good — we have among the highest rates of insured people in the nation. The quality of our care is consistently ranked in the top tier. And now we are embarking on an effort with the all-payer model to make Vermont healthier while reducing costs and constantly improving the patient experience.
Health care reform means different things to different people. Much of our individual perception of the issue is through a political lens. But Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, we share common values and goals when it comes to our health care: that it be affordable and accessible, of the greatest possible quality, and offer personal choice of providers.
I understand that many Vermonters are weary from recent health care reform efforts. I also know that health reform, while difficult and complicated, can make a major difference in the lives of people and families.
For example, some of the most vulnerable Vermonters, those in mental health crisis, are not always receiving the type of care they need in the best setting. Our association created a task force of hospital staff to identify system gaps and continually improve care. We are also working with advocates and other nonprofit partners to advance important legislative changes to better serve those living with mental illness.
Another example is payment reform — that is, our move away from a fee-for-service system of health care payment to one based on the value delivered. In plain English that means providers will no longer be paid for every test and procedure or appointment; instead, they’ll be paid a predetermined amount to care for their patients. This change has the potential to improve outcomes for Vermonters, enhance the health and safety of our communities, and put the system’s main emphasis on wellness instead of illness.
In Vermont, we all want to ensure our families, friends and neighbors have health insurance coverage they can count on. We want to make sure our kids get the preventive care they need and learn healthy lifestyles. We want to build a health care system that works wisely to provide optimal value at minimal cost.
It will take all of us in health care — including community leaders, elected officials and those who serve vulnerable populations — working together to get it right. Vermonters are depending on us to be collaborative and constructive, and Vermont’s hospitals are committed to that approach.
I am so pleased to be here in Vermont. Our challenges are also opportunities to make this a better place to live, work and play.
The people of Vermont deserve for their health care system to be centered on patients and value. On behalf of Vermont’s hospitals, I look forward to working with our communities, the legislature, and the Scott Administration toward that shared goal.
Jeff Tieman is president and CEO of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.