As the CEO of a small community hospital, I am reminded daily of the frustrations set upon today's patients as our nation's healthcare system struggles to adapt to fundamental changes in its core structure. In many ways, it calls to mind the trials and tribulations inherent in former New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner's attempt to build a new home for his beloved team.
With healthcare, game goes on as construction continues
Steinbrenner first began campaigning for a new stadium in the 1980s, alleging that the House that Ruth Built was no longer sound and posed a threat to all those in attendance. When his idea was met with resistance, the Yankees considered several options, among them, moving the team either across the Hudson River to New Jersey or to the West Side of Manhattan. At long last, after myriad delays caused for the most part by New York City politics, the proposal for the new stadium was unveiled in 2004.
Groundbreaking ceremonies took place on Aug. 16, 2006, the 58th anniversary of Babe Ruth's death. Thanks to the proximity of the two fields, the Yankees were able to continue playing in their old home throughout the 2007 and 2008 seasons while their new stadium was being finished across the street. As one would expect, Yankee fans stayed loyal to their team throughout, and the new stadium was officially opened on April 16, 2009.
Whether you loved or hated him, it was largely thanks to Steinbrenner's business acumen that the Yankees could afford to play in the old stadium while the new one was being built.
It would be equally appropriate if healthcare reform could work this way, shifting from a dilapidated system to a fully functioning alternative on a specific day. The foundation of an innovative healthcare system, however, is much more fluid than Bronx bedrock, and the necessary combination of time, logistics and money (trillions of dollars over decades) makes this an impossibility. Instead, we must “feel” the transition, painful though it may be. As with any endeavor of this magnitude, patience is essential to success.
While the idea of a Yankee fan cheering for his team as a pile driver goes about its business in the next row may seem absurd, that is exactly what the American patient is currently being asked to endure. That said, the growing pains felt by the effects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act are an inconvenient yet vital step in the evolution of a solidly functioning healthcare state.
In their very first year in the new stadium, the Yankees won the World Series, and the fans went wild. Whether the citizens of America will be as appreciative of their new healthcare structure remains as yet to be seen.
Craig Garner is CEO of Coast Plaza Hospital, Norwalk, Calif.
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