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Virtual Care Center
Mercy health system's Virtual Care Center will become a reality next year.
Photo credit: MERCY

Mo. system virtually breaks ground on new telehealth center

By Joseph Conn, Andrew L. Wang and Kristen Schorsch
Posted: May 17, 2014 - 12:01 am ET

The St. Louis-based Mercy health system has been on a nearly decade-long telehealth journey. Next year, it will find a home.

The 33-hospital Catholic system last week held a “virtual” groundbreaking ceremony for a 120,000-square-foot, four-story Virtual Care Center that will host in a single location a projected 75 telemedicine programs, from multiple electronic intensive-care unit services to home monitoring to teleradiology to a 24/7 nurse call center.

Mercy, which employs 2,100 physicians in clinics scattered across four states, launched its first telehealth program, a virtual ICU, roughly a decade ago. The new building is expected to open sometime next year and be home to 300 physicians, nurses, researchers and support staff, facilitating an expected 3 million telehealth visits over the subsequent five years.

One of the major barriers to widespread adoption of telehealth in the U.S. has been a misalignment of incentives linked to fee-for-service payment models. Payment reforms provide compensation to cover not only the costs of running telehealth programs, but also to offset revenue losses when the programs keep people out of the hospital.

Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn

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Illinois health system signs $1.8 billion CountyCare contract

The Cook County Health & Hospitals System based in Chicago signed a five-year, $1.8 billion deal with a division of St. Louis-based Centene Corp. to administer CountyCare, its managed-care program for people on Medicaid.

The agreement with IlliniCare Health Plan is set to start July 1. Assuming 115,000 members in CountyCare, two-thirds of the contract amount will go toward reimbursing providers for medical care and prescription drugs. Roughly 21% will pay for managed-care services and services such as behavioral health, optometry and dentistry, and the remaining 12% will pay IlliniCare's administrative expenses. About 100,000 people have enrolled in the program to date.

CountyCare has been run as a pilot program to this point, with several vendors handling operations. On July 1, the health system plans to convert it into a Medicaid managed-care entity administered by one vendor, under the aegis of the state's Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

Under CountyCare, the health system will get a fixed amount per month for each enrollee. —Andrew L. Wang, Crain's Chicago Business

Chicago-area system plans to scale back hospital expansion

NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Ill., wants to scale back its $157 million renovation at Skokie (Ill.) Hospital, as the facility in the Chicago suburb admits fewer patients and shifts to more outpatient care.

The proposal calls for reducing the number of medical-surgery beds, a category that includes most inpatient beds, and renovating more of the outdated hospital, rather than building anew. The proposed changes are estimated to cut the project's price tag by about $30 million, to around $127 million.

The changes are “in response to recent and anticipated adjustments to the manner in which hospital services are and will be provided,” the hospital network said in its April 25 application to the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, which must approve the changes.

The project initially was approved two years ago, and about $20 million has been spent so far. —Kristen Schorsch, Crain's Chicago Business

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