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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of January 15 - 21, 2003


Survey shows more confidence in St. Luke’s

Express Staff Writer

According to recently obtained survey results, more local residents are choosing St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center for routine care than did two years ago. Hospital officials say they think additional business could be generated if people knew more about the extent of services offered there.

In August, Lawrence Research Co. of Santa Anna, Calif., interviewed 300 residents of Blaine County and Stanley about their use of and opinions about St. Luke’s. It was the second such survey done since the hospital opened south of Ketchum in November 2000.

"We wanted to get a feel for how the community’s thinking about us," said St. Luke’s CEO Bruce Jensen.

Half the respondents were men and half were women.

Seventy-seven percent said they had a favorable impression of St. Luke’s, while only 15 percent said they had an unfavorable impression. One third of them said they or a family member had been an inpatient at St. Luke’s or in one of the defunct hospitals in Sun Valley or Hailey. Three out of five had received outpatient care.

A portion of the survey asked people whether they were more likely to go to the local hospital or to one of six others in the region for eight categories of medical care. For routine treatment, 74 percent said they would choose St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center, up from 69 percent who said that in the 2000 survey.

In both the 2000 and 2002 surveys, 56 percent of respondents said they would choose St. Luke’s for orthopedic surgery.

However, Jensen said, "we should have that up in the 70 to 75 percent range," calling such surgery a specialty of the local hospital.

Only 71 percent of respondents said they knew orthopedic surgery is performed locally.

Seventy-eight percent said they preferred St. Luke’s for emergency services, up from 73 percent in 2000. That’s a high percentage, but surprisingly low considering St. Luke’s is the only hospital within 75 miles.

Jensen contended that relatively low numbers for orthopedic and emergency services are not the result of inferior care, but of an "awareness problem" among the public. According to hospital Marketing Director Kerry George, the most common reason given for going elsewhere is a belief that the needed service is not available locally.

"We need to do a better job of educating the community about what we have here," Jensen said.

He said the hospital began an ad campaign about a year ago to let the public know about services available. He said the survey results might prompt the hospital’s board to expand that.

Jensen attributed the increase in those who said they’d use St. Luke’s for routine care to the ad campaign and to the fact that since the hospital opened, prices have been lowered for emergency, lab and X-ray services. He said 60 percent of the hospital’s business consists of that and other outpatient care.

Thirty-three percent of respondents in the 2002 survey agreed that it is necessary to go to out-of-town hospitals for surgery because they charge less, while 42 percent disagreed. In 2000, 46 percent agreed with that statement while only 27 percent disagreed. Surprisingly, however, only 6 percent of respondents said they compared costs before deciding which hospital to go to.

Jensen acknowledged that prices for most services are still a little higher at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center than at other hospitals in the region. He said that due to the high cost of living in the Wood River Valley, St. Luke’s pays 10 to 15 percent higher wages here than it does in Boise. He said labor costs make up 57 percent of the local hospital’s operating budget.

Jensen said that more business at the hospital would help it cover its fixed costs, especially during slower tourism periods in spring and fall. He said the hospital has 32 beds, but on average, only 10 are occupied. He said the hospital would break even on its operating budget if 12 to 14 were regularly occupied.

To that end, hospital officials said, the hospital hopes to bring in more specialists, including obstetricians and gynecologists, pediatricians and internal medicine doctors.

"We have a very sophisticated population that has very high expectations of us," said board chairman Preston Strazza. "We’re expected to provide a higher level of service than other hospitals our size."

However, he said, the community cannot expect the hospital to offer services in some areas, including cardiac and cancer care, that are beyond the scope of a facility its size.

"As everything gets more sophisticated, more technological and more expensive, we have to decide what we can do best," Strazza said. "Also, you’ve got to have the volume to support those things."

He said state and federal law requires a certain number of procedures to be done in highly specialized categories to make sure each hospital maintains the expertise to do them well.

Jensen said St. Luke’s would like to attract some internal medicine doctors who are willing to accept new Medicare patients. He said the four who currently hold privileges to treat patients at the hospital do not do so, due to cuts in reimbursement by the federal government amounting to 17 percent over the past three years.

Jensen said the hospital about breaks even on procedures for Medicare patients, but their business helps spread fixed costs. In addition, Strazza pointed out, the hospital has an obligation to the community to provide such services.

The hospital does not turn anyone away for inability to pay. Bills of indigent patients are covered by Blaine County taxpayers.

Local residents have helped fund far more than that, however. Jensen said that of the hospital’s $2.5 million capital budget for the 2002 fiscal year, $1.5 million was donated by local residents and charities. That paid for a new CAT scan and an X-ray machine for surgery that provides instant images. It also covered final construction costs for the new medical office building.

"We have a community that has been extremely generous and helpful in supporting us," Strazza said.


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