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January 8, 2024 Industry Outlook | Health Care

Boosting workforce pipeline, new facilities, flexible care delivery key trends in 2024

HBJ FILE PHOTO Jeffrey Flaks is the CEO of Hartford HealthCare.

In the new year, Connecticut healthcare leaders say they will be focused on finding new ways to attract workers, expanding their footprints, and continuing efforts to provide care outside of traditional settings.

All of that will happen as the state’s largest healthcare providers try to shore up their financial positions, after several years of significant headwinds.

The state’s 12 health systems, which own 27 hospitals, physician practices and other providers, reported a combined $719.3 million operating loss in fiscal 2022, on $18.9 billion in revenue, according to the Office of Health Strategy.

Two-thirds of health systems operated in the red in fiscal 2022, as they faced rising costs from prescription drugs, contract labor, and salaries and wages.

Meantime, all eyes are still on Yale New Haven Health’s pending acquisition of three Connecticut hospitals — Waterbury, Manchester Memorial and Rockville General — owned by the financially ailing Prospect Medical Holdings company.

The Hartford Business Journal recently asked three health industry leaders for insights into trends they foresee in the months ahead.

Chris O'Connor

They included Hartford HealthCare President and CEO Jeffrey A. Flaks, Trinity Health Of New England President and CEO Montez Carter, and Yale New Haven Health President and CEO Christopher O’Connor.

Here’s what they had to say.

Creating career pipelines

The shortage of workers, from nurses to doctors to allied health professionals, is a long-standing issue and hasn’t been improving, according to Flaks.

Connecticut’s nursing programs graduate fewer than 2,000 nurses annually, but the state needs that number to be closer to 3,000 to meet demand, Governor’s Workforce Council data shows.

Flaks said the key to turning the shortage around is to create career pipelines by partnering with educational institutions.

Multiple health organizations are pursuing such partnerships, including Hartford HealthCare, which in July, joined forces with Eastern Connecticut State University.

Eastern has launched a new undergraduate nursing program and there are plans to construct a new simulation lab at nearby Windham Hospital, which is owned by Hartford HealthCare, to help train students.

Through formal agreements with Connecticut colleges, partner hospitals can serve as living clinical classrooms, Flaks said.

“In 2024, look for a greater awareness of the importance of the ties between education and health care, including scholarships and opportunities for hands-on training,” Flaks said.

Trinity Health Of New England, which includes St. Francis Hospital in Hartford and St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, this fall deployed a new virtual nurse care program to address the worker shortage and train new nurses.

Patients receiving care through the program get treated by a direct care registered nurse, on-site nursing assistant or licensed practical nurse, and a registered nurse who visits a patient’s room virtually.

Through this model, experienced nurses can care for patients, coordinate complex care and also mentor nurses who are at an earlier stage in their careers, Montez said.

Expanding footprints, services

Connecticut’s health systems have been expanding their footprints and how they deliver services — trends that will continue in the year ahead.

Hartford HealthCare has been expanding into southern Connecticut. Work is underway on a new $50 million healthcare hub at 32 Knight St., in Norwalk, which is expected to be finished in the second quarter of 2024.

A rendering of Hartford HealthCare’s new $50 million healthcare hub in Norwalk.

Yale New Haven Health is building an $838 million, 505,000-square-foot neuroscience center on its St. Raphael Campus in New Haven.

Workers started construction in the summer of 2022 and aim to finish in 2026. Patients will receive treatment there for a variety of neurological ailments, from epilepsy to movement disorders.

Trinity Health is in the midst of a $51 million expansion and renovation project at its Johnson Memorial Hospital campus in Enfield.

Once complete, the S. Prestley and Helen Blake Ambulatory Care Center will create a comprehensive “hub” for outpatient services and include an upgraded surgery center with four operating rooms, recovery areas, and additional medical office space.

Trinity also is expanding its interventional pulmonology program. It was launched at St. Francis Hospital just over a year ago and allows physicians to use a robot-assisted bronchoscopy to biopsy suspicious lung nodules in hard-to-reach areas.

Trinity plans to soon offer access to the procedure in the greater Waterbury and Springfield, Massachusetts regions.

Improving access

Another trend, according to state healthcare leaders, is improving access to care outside of traditional settings.

According to Flaks, access means not only physical buildings like health centers and clinics, but also virtual, on-demand care. This can happen at a neighborhood pharmacy, or even via a walk-in virtual visit at a “care station” in one’s grocery store or office building, he said.

Hartford HealthCare has partnerships with Walgreens, OnMed, One Medical and GoHealth Urgent Care to allow patients to get care they need closer to where they live and work.

Montez Carter

According to Carter, the health industry will continue to see high demand for telehealth and virtual visits.

Another trend is high demand for specialized healthcare services outside of the hospital setting, he said. Trinity has responded by opening its first of several multidisciplinary outpatient access centers in Rocky Hill and Bloomfield.

These offer a range of services, from primary care to laboratory services, radiology, cardiology, pulmonology, obstetrics, urology, orthopedics and physical therapy.

Carter anticipates the future will also bring more care directly in patients’ homes.

In the future, Carter said Trinity Health’s mobile healthcare services will not only handle emergencies, but also deliver non-emergency care focused on patient education, consultation, preventative care, chronic disease management, and post-acute, follow-up care.

Yale New Haven Health recently acquired PhysicianOne Urgent Care, an urgent care provider in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York. The deal was a response to patients’ increasing desires for on-demand, convenient care, O’Connor said.

Prevention, equity and AI

The future of health care is a focus on prevention, according to industry leaders.

“We are seeing a departure from traditional health care that focuses on treatment only when patients are sick,” Carter said.

Trinity Health, for example, will be working to address social influencers of health. Where people are born, live, learn, work and age can impact health and quality of life, Carter said.

In Connecticut, this inequity persists between the state’s affluent and poor communities, Flaks noted. In 2024, Hartford HealthCare’s new Center for Equity will aim to bring together experts from the fields of medicine, social work, diversity, research and analytics to improve access to health care.

“It is unconscionable that someone’s ZIP code should be a greater determinant of overall health and longevity than their genetic code,” Flaks said.

Another trend in health care involves the use of advanced technology, such as artificial intelligence.

Flaks said he anticipates more frequent and robust collaborations between health systems and organizations delivering artificial intelligence and machine learning technology.

Hartford HealthCare is working with Google Cloud, which provides cloud computing services, such as data analytics and machine learning. This is expected to help medical experts do their jobs and unlock trends in health data, Flaks said.

Check out the rest of HBJ's 2024 economic forecast issue

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