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How MHA Helps Hospitals Through Challenging Circumstances

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The Maine Hospital Association (MHA) is the primary advocate for community-governed hospitals located in the state with the Maine State Legislature, the U.S. Congress, and federal and state regulatory agencies. Based in Augusta, Maine, MHA formed a partnership with VISTA in 2004 to find a solution to hospital staffing shortages.

We spoke with Tamara Butts, MHA Director of Business Development and Administration, to talk about the organization and its partnership with VISTA.

Would you please give us a high-level overview of how MHA helps medical organizations and healthcare systems in your state?

The Maine Hospital Association represents 36 community-governed hospitals in Maine. Formed in 1937, this non-profit organization advocates for hospitals provides educational services and serves as a clearinghouse of comprehensive information for hospital members, lawmakers, and the public. A leader in developing healthcare policy, MHA works to stimulate public conversation about health care issues that affect the citizens of Maine.

Maine Hospital Solutions (MHS), a wholly-owned entity of the MHA, was created in 1992 to provide value-added benefits to Maine hospitals, their affiliates, and employees statewide. This is done through endorsement agreements with companies that MHA, or MHS, has vetted and determined can offer high-quality products and services at reduced cost and is a good fit for the association’s mission and its members.

Tell us about the changes your association has experienced over the last year. How have you adjusted to these situations?

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw the focus of our hospitals shifting in that direction. So, actually, at the association level, we were trying to limit how much we communicated regarding COVID. We didn’t want it to be all-encompassing.

We quickly learned that that was going to be the case regardless. Overnight, our hospitals were overwhelmed with COVID planning to prepare for what was to come. We quickly reached a point where there was no time or resources for anything else. As a result, everyone was forced to shift away from any other initiative and focus solely on our hospitals’ needs surrounding COVID.

Like many organizations, MHA staff has been working remotely. As a member organization, we always had, before the pandemic, highly engaged members attend in-person meetings. Now we’re faced with no longer being able to get together, so we moved to virtual meetings and conference calls as much as we could. The inability to hold our large, multi-day membership meeting twice a year was a big change and a significant loss in terms of networking for our members.

How has your support evolved for your member organizations over time?

We have always focused and will continue to focus on advocacy, and most of what we do supports that in some way. We set our goals to meet our hospitals’ challenges, including reimbursement challenges and hospital regulations. We use data management that helps us to meet our goals and allows us to conduct analyses that are used to estimate the impact of changes to the hospitals.

In recent years, we’ve seen a shift to more focus on the quality of care. As a result, our leading hospitals rank very high in quality, often holding the number one spot in national rankings. In addition, how we provide education to support this direction has changed with the growth in webinars. Thus, allowing us to expand our ability to provide more education and to reach more people.

Also, there has been significant growth in our organization’s critical access hospital program, designed to reduce the financial vulnerability of rural hospitals and improve access to healthcare by keeping essential services in rural communities.

What is your outlook for the future within your state for members?

In the short term, our hospitals will be catching up on back-burner projects or requirements that were delayed or put on hold. For example, many routine deadlines like preparing cost reports, submitting financial claims data to the state, and licensing surveys had to be postponed. Now hospitals are going back to take care of these necessary items.

Hospitals continue to struggle financially. So, we will always be in a position to advocate for appropriate reimbursements for them. In addition, we’ve seen many of our independent hospitals affiliate with a system, and I expect we may see more of that.

Lastly, the shift to telehealth during this pandemic has been dramatic, and I think we will see that continue into the future, to some extent. It will require that insurer payments align with the telehealth initiative for it to be successful. I think it worked for patients and providers, and they will want to see it continue.

Do you have any new programs that you would like to highlight?

The needs that we’ve identified in our hospitals that we are working to address include:

  • People with behavioral health issues are stuck in the Emergency Department. There are limited appropriate long-term care settings for them to go to, and sadly, many of these patients are children. During the most recent legislative session, MHA promoted two bills designed to help the situation. We will continue to push for improvements because behavioral health services are a problem everywhere.
  • Violence in the workplace. Healthcare workers in the U.S. experience a higher rate of injury on the job than workers in any other industry. These injuries happen when a patient, or sometimes a family member, becomes violent toward a provider. MHA is working toward training hospital staff and providing tools for them to handle workplace violence.
  • MHA wants to tell our COVID story to the public. We feel it’s essential for people to understand what hospitals have gone through on the front lines, so we will share that story.
  • Workforce initiatives. Hospitals are currently struggling to employ staff. This initiative will be a big focus for MHA in the future.

Tell us about your mission and whom you serve. What is the ‘why’ behind what you do?

The mission of the MHA is to provide leadership through advocacy, information, and education. In addition, to support our members in fulfilling their mission to improve the health of their patients and the communities they serve.

The primary function of the association is legislative advocacy. State and federal policymakers must understand the impact of proposed legislation on our hospitals. It is our role to provide policymakers with that information and to advocate for hospital interests.

Simply put, we are a unified voice for hospitals.

Who are your members? How many member organizations are there?

We have 36 hospital members in Maine. However, any part of a member organization is also part of our membership. That means that we have continuing care facilities, home health agencies, and physician practices that are part of a member organization included in our membership.

What are your current priorities within your respective organizations?

We have something called Research and Education Trust, which is part of our education arm. Through this initiative, our organizations work together to address those highlighted issues like patients stuck in ED, violence in the workplace, and the workforce initiative. So that’s primarily what we’re focused on and what we’re doing.

Tell us about the partnership between you and VISTA.

What was formerly called Associated Health Resources first partnered with VISTA in 2004. VISTA was working to build its presence in Maine, and Maine hospitals had, and continue to have, a need to fill physician positions. Although many hospitals might prefer to hire permanent full-time physicians, that is not an easy task in most of Maine and challenging in certain areas. Through its locum tenens program, VISTA has been able to help alleviate that stress by providing doctors to hospitals to help them serve their communities.

In the past 21 years, VISTA has been very responsive to the needs of the MHA members. It has been a great relationship, and we are grateful to have VISTA as a resource for our hospitals.

Locum Tenens Staffing Solutions with VISTA

Medical staffing continues to be a challenge for many healthcare organizations around the country. VISTA offers solutions through locum tenens partnerships designed to solve your staffing shortages with candidates who blend in with your culture.

When you partner with VISTA, your healthcare organization will access a large, specialty diverse pool of physicians and advanced practice providers. Known for quality recruitment, we’ve already taken care of checking their references and reviewing their credentials. In many cases, we have worked with them for years.

VISTA’s pool of medical professionals has the knowledge and clinical skills to match the preferences of the healthcare organizations with which we work. In addition, through locum tenens coverage, we ensure continuity of care, preservation of your revenue stream, and reduced burnout with existing staff.

Contact a VISTA expert today to remedy your staffing demands.

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