Craig Becker, president of the Tennessee Hospital Association, spoke to Belmont faculty and students last week about the future of the healthcare industry, focusing his remarks on the new changes that will be brought about by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
While he realizes that the healthcare industry is about to undergo radical change, he does not fear those changes. “I really am an optimist,” he stated. “And I’m invigorated by chaos. Chaos brings change.”
In the past, he argued that the existing system was not perfect, that there were quality of care issues. The new legislation will force the industry to address these issues sooner rather than later. “Hospitals will be forced to look outside of their four walls.”
He predicts that within the next several years, Tennessee will see a significant decline in its number of hospitals. At present, there are 154 in the state of Tennessee; approximately, 70 to 77 of those are rural hospitals. Becker believes that in five to ten years, there will be only 90 hospitals statewide. Rural hospitals will have to actively seek partnerships with the larger organizations.
In many parts of the state, the rural hospitals are centers of community. Closing them poses a challenge as is it will draw a lot of community resistance, he explained. However, he believes that there is a silver lining. “With this change comes a move away from fee-for-service,” he said.
Becker argued that in order to compensate for the shrinking number of hospitals, community care, education and in-home care will increase dramatically. The focus will be on preventative measures rather than only on treatment.
Due to the move toward community and preventative care, nurses are going to be on the forefront of healthcare, and data predicts that the year 2020 will see a 47 percent shortage of nurses. “It takes six years [of post graduate work] for a physician, and only three years to produce a nurse practitioner,” he said, emphasizing the practicality and necessity of building up that work force.
After Becker addressed the prevailing issues facing the healthcare industry, members of the audience were invited to ask questions. The questions developed into a discussion regarding end-of-life care, another essential component that Becker believes will see a significant change. He suggested that the end of life care process will transition away from in-hospital towards a more comprehensive palliative care system.
At the conclusion of his talk, Becker answered a question he posed at the outset: “Why are we here?” “We frequently suffer indignities and are not often or fully recognized,” he said, acknowledging the realities of working in the health care industry. “But we are here to alleviate pain, and give those who would need it a hug.”
No matter how the industry transforms, Becker concluded, it will continue to be a rewarding one.