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Toby's Take: The Care Collaborative

A field of sunflowers with a pink and orange sunset in the background

March 14, 2023

I’ve sat on a lot of nonprofit boards in my career, and we always seemed to have a mission and vision statement. Some hit the mark better than others. If you’ve had this experience, you know these mission and vision statements can sound a lot loftier than what’s being done.

We reached for the stars with this one:

“As an academic health system serving the people of Kansas, the region and the nation, The University of Kansas Health System will enhance the health and wellness of the individuals, families and communities we serve,” and then it goes on to explain how we do that.

This, in no way, is limited to our 4 walls and was never intended to be when the Kansas Legislature established The University of Kansas Hospital Authority in 1998, a rebirth that has led to unprecedented growth and excellence the past 25 years. We treat people from all 50 states and several countries. And while we receive no financial support from our “middle name,” Kansas, we have a sunflower-sized soft spot for our home state.

Enter the Care Collaborative

In 2014, a federal grant paved the way for what was then known as the Kansas Heart and Stroke Collaborative. It focused on prevention, diagnosis and treatment of these 2 killers in rural Kansas and guided people to manage their care by coordinating it with their various providers.

“Our goal is to ensure that rural patients have the same access to the highest level of evidence-based care that patients would receive in an urban area,” said Jodi Schmidt, former CEO of a rural hospital and executive director of the Care Collaborative. “We really believe that by connecting rural providers to the resources of our academic medical center, we can assist them in that way, which in turn leads to evidence-based practice at the local level.”

Schmidt joined Robert Moser, MD, a former Kansas Department of Health and Environment secretary and former dean of the University of Kansas Medical Center campus in Salina, to lead the collaborative from the start. They have since expanded beyond heart and stroke. Thus the name change. And they’ve presented at national conferences on what still is a unique set up in the country.

Success has come mostly from word-of-mouth. Schmidt admits they stay so busy they forget to toot their own horn. (That’s my job!) Word has spread through local health fairs and fliers posted in waiting rooms and especially the recommendation of healthcare administrators and providers who’ve seen it work. There are 82 Kansas healthcare organizations in the Care Collaborative. It started with 13.

The original 13 colonies, if you will.

In the early days of the collaboration, one of the issues we identified is that patients weren’t presenting in a timely fashion. You know, ranchers who would finish putting away their cattle and then go to the hospital with symptoms of chest pain. Jodi Schmidt

Executive director of the Care Collaborative

Improving lives in Kansas

“That has been a really positive impact we’ve seen across the state of Kansas,” said Bob Page, health system president and CEO.

The effort is a masterful display of coordination, helping patients connect the dots between visits to their regular physicians and the specialists they might see. And this isn’t about patients seeing health system providers in Kansas City. The formula is successful because of the openness of rural doctors, nurses and staff to training on the latest evidence-based protocols. We’re talking nearly 2,000 providers trained to care for almost 10,000 patients dealing with strokes, heart attacks and sepsis.

“In the early days of the collaboration, one of the issues we identified is that patients weren’t presenting in a timely fashion. You know, ranchers who would finish putting away their cattle and then go to the hospital with symptoms of chest pain,” said Schmidt.

It saves lives and money. Studies show rural health patients pay more in out-of-pocket expenses, which can be reduced through the collaborative.

Financially smart care

The original grant money ran out years ago, so the health system stepped up to continue funding and gets more dollars as an “Accountable Care Organization” through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). CMS has not only recognized the program but uses it as an example for other parts of the country.

“They’ve come to realize, if we can help the patient stay healthy, it’s good for the Medicare program, and it’s good for the patient. They want to see more of this work. But honestly, it’s just hard to set up on your own. And so the more we can be a central support structure to standing up chronic care management programs, identifying new staffing opportunities like this grant, utilizing the software and training people to utilize the software that we’re already using, giving new providers the opportunity to shadow and learn from our existing team of coaches, we really feel like that gives us a good leg up, a foundation, for being able to get more people into these kinds of population health improvement roles,” Schmidt said.

What’s in it for The University of Kansas Health System? Hear this. Almost none of these patients end up at our facilities. The Care Collaborative’s goal is not to bring in business. It really is to make Kansas healthier, and we’re glad to do our part.

Mission and vision accomplished so far.

Click here for more information on treatment and memberships to the Care Collaborative.

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