"Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow." — Helen Keller
For many years, the turning of the calendar to June has created an air of excitement as we make final preparations for our incomparable Annual Membership Meeting on Mackinac Island. While I am disappointed that the pandemic has necessitated a virtual annual meeting for the second consecutive year, new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and subsequent revised state guidelines have many optimistic that we have emerged from the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know it will still be a long time before our hospitals cease caring for patients infected by COVID-19, but the increasing vaccination rates and mounting evidence documenting the reduced risk of vaccinated individuals contracting, transmitting or falling ill with COVID-19 is a sure sign that better days are ahead.
Now that we are in the home stretch of the current MHA program year (and in light of declining COVID-19 case rates, hospitalizations and test positivity rates in Michigan), I’d like to highlight several very recent non-COVID MHA accomplishments that show the strength and value of our association.
Our advocacy work never stops, and I am very pleased to share that the Michigan Legislature recently advanced budget proposals for both the current and upcoming fiscal year that fully fund our MHA priorities for hospitals and health systems. They include the Healthy Michigan Plan, which now has record enrollment levels in excess of 900,000 Michiganders; recent Medicaid outpatient rate increases; graduate medical education; the rural access pool and obstetrical stabilization fund; and disproportionate share hospital payments. In addition, the budget now includes potentially transformational behavioral health funding.
We are all too familiar with the worsening behavioral health crisis in Michigan and its significant impact on patients and families (as well as hospitals themselves). This issue has been elevated as a priority by the MHA Board of Trustees this year and, with their encouragement and support, we are pleased that the MHA team has secured inclusion in the House budget proposal for $125 million in new funding to add access to pediatric psychiatric treatment at hospitals, improve care of behavioral health patients in the emergency departments and add additional settings of care for behavioral health cases. By adding these resources, we should be able to reduce the time it takes for children to find placement, while also providing infrastructure funding for hospitals to find innovative solutions for emergency departments to improve existing facilities to accommodate patients with psychiatric needs. This may include distinct entrances for patients in crisis and separate spaces with safe furnishings and restrooms. As demand and the acuity of these patients increases, we are hopeful these funds can help address the main challenges so Michiganders can receive the treatment they need.
From an operations perspective, there has been a great deal of recent activity at the association. We recently welcomed Molly Dwyer-White, MPH, as the MHA’s new vice president of safety and quality and the MHA Keystone Center’s new executive director. Molly brings over 18 years of experience in healthcare and comes to us from Michigan Medicine, where she led multiple efforts to establish and integrate structures to assess and improve patient experience while serving as the director of the Office of Patient Experience. Molly is working closely with the MHA and MHA Keystone Center staff and governing boards as she transitions into her role, and I am confident she will continue the MHA’s strong work in improving health outcomes and addressing health inequities.
We just announced our newest MHA Service Corporation Endorsed Business Partner, CyberForce|Q, which is a leading provider of cybersecurity services, advancing the safety of information systems by utilizing a tactical, collective defense model with a focus on continuous improvement. CyberForce|Q has worked directly with the MHA for a number of years and helped us to launch our Mi|HSOC cybersecurity operations center for hospitals and health systems. With healthcare now the top target for cybercriminals globally, we are pleased to offer this new collaboration.
The MHA has also reconfigured our headquarters in Okemos, the Spencer C. Johnson Building, to allow for a new tenant in the Michigan Osteopathic Association (MOA), effective May 1. We are delighted to welcome the MOA and its members to our facility, and we are confident that this arrangement will lead to even greater opportunities for synergy well into the future. Both of our organizations, along with the Michigan State Medical Society, comprise The Partnership for Michigan’s Health, which routinely produces the Economic Impact of Healthcare in Michigan report, and collaborates on efforts that improve Michigan healthcare.
As for those MHA employees housed in the MHA headquarters and our Capitol Advocacy Center in downtown Lansing, their contributions and insights have helped the MHA make Modern Healthcare’s list of Best Places to Work in Healthcare for 2021 — the only state hospital association to be recognized. I am incredibly proud of this prestigious distinction because it validates our constant efforts to support our employees — who are the strength of our association. To earn this distinction in the midst of a pandemic is especially gratifying.
I also want to recognize our outgoing Board Chair Edwin A. Ness, president & CEO of Munson Healthcare, whose term will end later this month. Taking the gavel amid a once-in-a-century pandemic, Ed provided tremendous leadership to help guide us through multiple statewide COVID-19 surges and the challenges associated with the delivery of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. We spent many early mornings and late nights on phone calls, and the MHA could not have accomplished what we did without Ed’s unwavering commitment to the role.
During Annual Meeting, we will formally transition from Ed to incoming Board Chair Tina Freese Decker, president & CEO of Spectrum Health, who I could not be more excited to lead us through our next program year. In addition to guiding West Michigan’s largest health system, Tina has played an active role as a co-chair with the Protect Michigan Commission in addressing vaccine hesitancy and increasing education and awareness efforts on the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines.
If you have not done so already, I encourage you to register and join us at Annual Meeting. In addition to hearing Tina’s formal remarks, I’m particularly happy to have my friend Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, scheduled to join us to discuss key healthcare advocacy items at the federal level. We will also be joined by Kevin Ahmaad Jenkins, a leader in health equity who serves as a fellow within the Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Minority Health and will explore racism and its effect on public health, as well as breaking social stigmas relating to racial injustice in healthcare.
While the 2020-2021 program year has been one of the most difficult in recent memory, I am proud of the strength and resiliency displayed by the MHA, our employees, our member organizations and the front-line caregivers who have gone to war against the COVID-19 virus every day. We are not out of the woods yet by any means, as we must be mindful of potential emerging variants and other complicating factors that could lead to yet another future surge. Rest assured that the MHA will continue our daily efforts in support of our members until COVID-19 is defeated once and for all. In the meantime, we should collectively celebrate the fact that, at least for now, new infections and hospitalizations have been dramatically reduced.
Through it all, the MHA has continued to serve our members and live our mission to advance the health of individuals and communities, to innovate and to keep an eye to the future. I am pleased to share just a few tangible examples in this column, and I am optimistic about our ability to create even more successful outcomes in the future. In short, we have kept our collective faces to the sunshine and, as a result, our association is as strong as ever.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.