With its new West Side health center up and running, Cook County Health & Hospitals System is doubling down on preventive, outpatient services.
The two-hospital system is opening new ambulatory care centers in Arlington Heights and North Riverside, as well as dropping "& Hospitals System" from its name.
Cook County Health "is just a little bit simpler, but it's also more focused on where we want to be," said Dr. John Jay Shannon, CEO. "We're trying to focus on health, and we're trying to continue the pivot of the organization toward easy access to ambulatory services that can prevent you from having to go to the hospital if given at the right time and in the right place."
The rebrand officially kicked off in late October when it came time to put signs up around the 282,000-square-foot Professional Building. The center, which is connected to Stroger Hospital, includes oncology, ophthalmology, dental and other outpatient services.
Meanwhile, Cook County Health at Arlington Heights is scheduled to open around Jan. 14, at which point the Vista Health Center that's currently operating out of a temporary space nearby will close. And Cook County Health at North Riverside will open this summer, marking the close of the Cicero Health Center about 2 miles away.
The new facilities, which will have about 30 exam rooms each, will offer a range of primary and specialty care, such as mental health and dental services. Shannon said the model is indicative of the health system's move toward larger, more convenient and more uniform outpatient health centers. Some of the 13 existing clinics have as few as six exam rooms and focus on internal medicine rather than family care.
The health system's strategy isn't unique. Most hospital systems in the Chicago area will invest in outpatient services over the next few years. Another system even updated its name from "hospital" to "health" in October. But Cook County Health, known as the safety net for the region, is hoping modern outpatient clinics and a short, comprehensive name will attract more insured patients and boost net patient revenue.
Cook County Health's mission is to deliver care, regardless of a patient's ability to pay—that's not changing, Shannon said. But, at a time when nearly 60% of the system's patients are covered by insurance, largely due to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, "we absolutely need to make sure that we're a place of choice."
Amanda Starc, associate professor of strategy at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, said establishing relationships with patients through "the sort of routine care people get when they have insurance" is key.
"Then, when they have acute needs, that is the natural place for them to go," she added. "If you had to come up with a strategy to attract more insured patients, this is the best strategy you could possibly come up with."
Sixty-two percent of the Cook County Board's $5.9 billion fiscal 2019 budget will go toward Cook County Health, which also provides health care services to detainees at the Cook County Department of Corrections.
The board anticipates $1.8 billion in revenue for County Care, the system's Medicaid managed care program, which has about 333,000 members. While enrollees are not required to seek medical services from Cook County Health, it's better for the system's bottom line when they do.
There's a lot of competition: The health plan's network includes more than 50 hospitals, 4,000 primary care providers and 14,000 specialists.
Shannon said the goal is to keep $283 million of that within the system and, hopefully, attract patients from other Medicaid managed care plans.
He adds: If the system doesn't "retain—and, in fact, grow—the revenues associated with caring for insured people, then our strategy starts to fail because of the amount of charity care that we provide. . . .We want to be able to continue that ethos as a system, but at the same time we have to survive financially."
"Cook County Health doubles down on preventive, outpatient services" originally appeared in Crain's Chicago Business.