Saturday, July 20, 2024
73.0°F

Efforts continue to merge Logan Health, Billings Clinic hospital systems

by TAYLOR INMAN
Daily Inter Lake | June 8, 2024 12:00 AM

Integrating the clinical services and technology systems at Logan Health-Billings Clinic is a top priority for new leadership at the hospital system.

According to newly appointed Co-Chief Executive Officer Kevin Abel, the Logan Health-Billings Clinic technology teams are “very close” to identifying the electronic medical record platform that will be used across its facilities.

Logan Health currently uses Meditech as its electronic health record program and Billings Clinic uses the program Oracle. Logan Health Marketing and Communications Vice President Mellody Sharpton said the goal is to move to one medical record platform across the unified system. IT teams are currently evaluating options with input from physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants from both Logan Health and Billings Clinic. 

“Working together, we can gain operational efficiencies that will allow us to reinvest in advancing care in the communities we serve,” said Abel, who was appointed to his leadership position in March after his predecessor Craig Lambrecht resigned. “We’re collectively evaluating opportunities to integrate clinically and enhance our ability to care for patients.” 

Abel also touted the IT teams’ efforts to protect patients’ health information against cyber threats.

Data breaches affected Logan Health in 2019 that exposed personal information related to about 130,000 patients and led to a $4.2 million settlement. Another breach in 2021 affected 213,000 Logan Health patients and led to a settlement of $4.3 million. 

“As cyber criminals continue to target the health care sector, we must be increasingly vigilant in defending our digital health infrastructure,” Sharpton said. “Our integrated IT team must stay sharp and prepared with regular risk assessments, employee training, multi-level defense system, device management, incident response planning, backup systems and more.”

As part of clinical integration efforts, Billings Clinic Specialty Pharmacy and Logan Health Pharmacy – Clinical will work together to provide specialty medications across the state.

Specialty medications are defined as medicines that treat specific, mainly long-term or rare conditions, require special storage or handling, can only be stored at certain pharmacies, are expensive (ranging from $6,000 to $750,000 a year) or require careful patient management or provider supervision and counseling. 

Each team will also assist with prior authorization, drug interaction screenings and injection training, as well as helping the patient review their benefits and insurance and find available financial resources.

In addition to integration efforts, Abel said Logan Health-Billings Clinic is working hard on recruitment and retention — a challenging area for hospitals across the country. He said between Jan. 1 and April 4, the system brought on 303 employees, the majority of those hires filling roles that others have vacated.

The company also expanded its seasonal program, offering bonuses to attract specific talent during peak season in the summertime, such as emergency department technicians, licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants and registered nurses. 

Abel also noted that over the last year, the hospitals have bolstered on-the-job training for registered medical assistants.

“We require no experience. Instead, we train on-the-job and register/certify these employees. We have been doing the same with CNAs for some time,” Abel said. 

The hospitals also expanded to a nationwide nurse residency pipeline by recruiting 20-plus new graduates in three cohorts per year.  

Abel said the hospital system is putting more emphasis on workplace recognition as a way to improve employee retention. Recently, the hospital hosted its annual nursing awards banquet, where several nurses were honored during Healthcare Worker Week.

When it comes to challenges on the horizon, Abel is largely concerned about Medicaid reauthorization. In 2015, Medicaid in Montana was expanded to cover non-disabled, low-income adults, most of whom are working. In 2019, the Montana Legislature authorized the continuation of Medicaid expansion. 

The expansion is up for another vote in June 2025, and Abel said he along with other health care leadership across the state will be talking to lawmakers about the stakes of losing the program. According to the Montana Free Press, upward of 85,000 eligible adults could lose coverage, based on the state’s latest enrollment figures. 

“If not renewed, many Montanans would lose this important coverage and hospitals would face significant financial impacts,” Abel said. 

Branding changes for the health care system are not on the immediate horizon. 

Sharpton said selecting a name and establishing a brand for the unified system will be a thoughtful process, including input from many stakeholders like employees, physicians and community members.

Reporter Taylor Inman can be reached at 406-758-4433 or by emailing tinman@dailyinterlake.com.