Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hospital prices to drop in fall

St. Luke’s to ‘align’ and ‘standardize’ care-giving charges

Express Staff Writer

The price of care at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center will soon be noticeably less, as the valley's sole hospital "aligns" its prices with other Idaho hospitals, according to CEO John Kee.

Kee said the hospital south of Ketchum has worked on the change for months, and it will be implemented Oct. 1.

Kee, former CEO of Magic Valley Regional Medical Center in Twin Falls, took over at St. Luke's Wood River in April. He said he has since realized there is "community dissatisfaction" with prices. He acknowledged that he's heard of valley residents driving to Boise or Twin Falls to receive elective care instead of doing it in the Wood River Valley.

"People living here go to Costco (in Twin Falls)," he said. "What we're facing here in the hospital is also a challenge for anyone in retail here."

He said locals want the same service despite the comparably insignificant demand of the small population here. Kee said small retail may never be competitive with a big box store unless certain sacrifices are made.

"It's just a difficult environment," Kee said.

Kee and hospital board member Jon Thorson said that in order to bring prices down while maintaining the same quality of service, something has to be cut. That's going to be the hours of operation for certain services, they said. Currently, the hospital offers many services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year—more than the traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"There's probably no hospital in the U.S. of our size with an ER like ours," Thorson said.

Thorson and Kee said the ER would remain a "24/7 service," but some of the elective, non-emergency services will have limited hours. They said the details of those time cuts haven't been determined, but will be announced before Oct. 1.

Fewer hours will bring prices down because the cost of being open to patients all the time is passed on to the customer.

"We have to be efficient," Thorson said. "More efficient than we are."

Kee said the hospital has been considering aligning its prices for about 18 months, but it didn't become "obvious" that a change was needed until the weak economy exacerbated the problem for patients.

"Time has come to deal with it," Kee said.

Trevon Milliard:

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