NORTHAMPTON — Even though staff in the Breast Center at Cooley Dickinson Hospital are exceptional, hospital officials say, it has not always been the most welcoming place for people to come for mammograms and other services.
That will change by early summer, when a project to renovate space on the hospital campus will lead to the opening of the Comprehensive Breast Center, where the same clinical care, with a multidisciplinary approach, will be provided in a much improved setting.
Later in 2017, Cooley Dickinson will launch a comprehensive electronic medical records system that will enhance coordination and reduce duplicate testing.
These are among patient-focused initiatives as Cooley Dickinson Health Care recovers from a crisis at its Childbirth Center and finds itself again on solid financial footing, President and CEO Joanne Marqusee said in a meeting with the Gazette’s editorial board Tuesday.
“We made a small margin this year,” Marqusee said. “I’d say it’s what most community hospitals in the state are facing.”
Marqusee, who succeeded Craig Melin in early 2014, said she understands what Cooley Dickinson means to the community after doing extensive outreach prior to mapping out a plan for the next five years.
“We really have an opportunity to be among the best health care systems in the country,” Marqusee said.
Critical to this success has been the rebound of the Childbirth Center, where problems contributed to two infant deaths. Caregivers also failed to properly test the high blood pressure of a mother who later suffered a stroke and died. The problems led to a 30 percent drop in the number of patients and financial losses for the hospital.
Now, families are again placing confidence in Cooley Dickinson as a place to give birth, according to Marqusee.
“It’s back on its way,” she said.
In 2013, Cooley Dickinson affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital, run by Partners HealthCare. Partners is making a $1.2 billion investment in PartnerseCare, which will establish a new medical records system.
Marqusee said Cooley Dickinson is also staying focused on successfully expanding primary care and building community-based sites similar to Atwood Community Health Center in Northampton, where one-stop shopping is offered by providers to meet the health needs of patients.
But there are challenges in recruiting doctors and physical therapists and nurse specialists to western Massachusetts, even with the partnership with Massachusetts General.
“What we’re finding is people don’t know about this area,” Marqusee said. “They think Massachusetts is Boston.”
The affiliation with Mass General is helping on the specialist side, with a neurologist and maternal-fetal medicine specialist practicing in Northampton, as well as nurses, physician assistants and nurse practitioners.
“In general, we do well in nursing,” Marqusee said. Mass General has also helped in finding leaders for the hospital’s administrative side.
Urgent care is another focus, with an orthopedic practice clinic opening and adding to the demand for weekend and evening care, which replaces people showing up in the hospital’s emergency department.
“I think it’s a growing area, and there will be a need for more,” Marqusee said.
The hospital staff understands the opioid crisis, she said, and is making sure to only prescribe painkillers when needed, and is using a recovery coach program in which former addicts can consult with new patients.
Even as the hospital itself becomes less central to health care, Marqusee cited innovations such as in the Mass General Cancer Center, where reiki and massage, soon to be supplemented with acupuncture, are offered to patients.
Cooley Dickinson is cognizant of the need for diversity, focusing on making the hospital affirming and welcoming and doing training for the LGBTQ community and identifying other gaps, such as for service to the Latino community.
“The best care isn’t the same for everybody,” Marqusee said.
Marqusee doesn’t seem troubled by President-elect Donald Trump and Republicans in the U.S. Senate and House talking about dismantling the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. In fact, she remains confident in what Cooley Dickinson can offer.
“Everybody’s looking at what’s going to happen,” Marqusee said. “What I look at is a strategic plan, and I don’t think we’d do anything different.”
Scott Merzbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.