Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
For Will McConnell, Mercy Regional Medical Center’s new CEO, uncertainty in health care is a major challenge that he faces while aiming to maintain the hospital’s long trajectory of success.
McConnell was named CEO in March after overseeing operations and growth of Mercy’s 16 primary care and specialty clinics as the vice president of operations and outreach strategy.
In the months since he started, political proposals on the state and national levels have threatened to cut Mercy’s income.
“Being able to provide the same level of service and being reimbursed much less, that’s a hard equation to solve,” McConnell said.
The hospital could have faced a budget cut of about $1.6 million if the Colorado General Assembly had not turned the Hospital Provider Fee into an enterprise fund earlier this year. The fee subsidizes the cost of providing care to Colorado’s uninsured and indigent populations and is paid by health care providers and the federal government. Hospitals could have seen cuts because of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights’ restrictions that limit state revenue growth.
A bill that failed to clear the U.S. Senate in July to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would have caused about 600,000 people in the state to lose their coverage by 2030, according to the Colorado Health Institute. Earlier proposals would have also cut the Medicaid rolls.
McConnell would like to see changes to federal health care policy that keep intact some of the positive changes from the Affordable Care Act and add some incremental improvements instead of “start from scratch” approach.
With so much uncertainty in health care policy, McConnell asked his staff to be cost-conscious and look for efficiencies, while maintaining quality and patient satisfaction, he said.
Maintaining a legacyThose who selected McConnell for this position are happy with the hospital’s trajectory, and his main goal for the hospital “is to make sure the legacy that’s been created over so many years continues to flourish,” he said.
As part of stepping into his new role, McConnell’s been on a listening tour for about four months to see what’s going well, what’s not going well and what the staff would like to start or change.
“I’ve been incredibly impressed by the culture within other departments within Mercy and camaraderie,” he said.
But he’s heard concerns as well, and a call to improve communication across the organization. To make sure those who work with patients are involved in hospital decision-making, he is also setting up a new physician leadership team that will take part in governance.
In addition to finishing the Mercy Hospice House, expected to open later this year, the medical center is continuing to add specialty doctors, as demand warrants.
For example, Mercy recently added an internal medicine doctor who specializes in caring for those with obesity and related chronic conditions, like diabetes and heart conditions, Mercy spokesman David Bruzzese said.
Mercy is also looking at opportunities to continue to partner with medical facilities in Pagosa Springs and Cortez, McConnell said.
Mercy Family Medicine is also taking part in an expansion of a Centers for Medicaid and Medicare pilot program. The pilot focused on opportunities to shift away from charging patients on a fee-for-service model to charging each member on a per-month basis, he said.
“There was a lot of success in the Comprehensive Primary Care initiative,” he said about a federal program that aims to reform how patients pay for medical services.
As a result, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare are expanding the program into more areas nationally, he said.
The path to MercyAfter seven years at Mercy, McConnell plans to stay in Durango because he loves the community.
“The fact that our mission is to better the health of the people in our communities, it’s hard not to get to excited about that,” he said.
Before deciding to make health care his career, McConnell worked as a certified nursing assistant while earning a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts with a minor in Spanish from Utah State University.
He later studied manufacturing technology and construction management at Colorado State University.
While studying organizational behavior and change management for his doctorate at CSU, he got back into health care on the administrative side and later worked for Carilion Clinic, a six-hospital, nonprofit health care organization based in Roanoke, Va.
“All of those pieces have combined to all be incredibly beneficial and helpful,” he said.