ProHealth Care dedicated to being independent, freestanding
CEO discusses cancer care partnership, Obamacare, health care’s future

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

May 21, 2015

ProHealth Care CEO Susan Edwards in her office on Tuesday.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff 

CITY OF PEWAUKEE - When ProHealth Care CEO Susan Edwards glances at the cancer center under construction across the road from the organization’s headquarters, she envisions what the future will hold  - a place where residents can get the best care possible from three partnered health care organizations in a state-of-the art facility built with the patient in mind.

On May 7, ProHealth Care announced its collaboration with Aurora Health Care and UW Health to co-manage ProHealth Care’s new cancer center in the City of Pewaukee.  Aurora Health Care will have several cancer specialists delivering care at the new center. UW Health with its Carbone Cancer Center, the only federally designated comprehensive cancer center in the state, will provide medical direction for treating all cancer patients at the center.

Forming a partnership

Edwards said discussions began in the winter between the three health care organizations, which are all members of AboutHealth, a statewide health care organization developed to enhance clinical quality, increase efficiency and improve customer experiences through shared practices.

“It was very easy and very straightforward because we all want high-quality, value-based health care and with UW’s expertise as a (National Cancer Institute) Designated Cancer Center and Aurora with this very long history of delivering great cancer care at probably 20 locations in the state, it was an ideal partnership for us,” Edwards said.

The rooftop dining area takes shape at the new ProHealth Care cancer center and clinic on Tuesday.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff 

The opening date for the cancer center is Aug. 10 and a community open house will be held July 18.

The three organizations agreed there was an opportunity to bring more services to the community and will all take a very active approach in the center, she said. Aurora and UW-Health also had some input on the interior design of the cancer center.

“Within the network, we are very focused on the ability to share information, share practices and actually see them implanted,” Edwards said, giving the cancer care center as an example.

A large bore MRI machine is already in place and being tested at the the ProHealth Care cancer center and clinic in the City of Pewaukee. Ceiling tiles above the patient’s head form a mural of a forest.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff 

Health care networks are a good foundation for creating more partnerships and accelerating the pace of improvements, Edwards said.

As part of a network, Edwards said ProHealth Care and other health care organizations can discuss their successes so others can learn quickly and each organization brings something important to the table.

While Edwards agrees there have been more health care organizations joining networks after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act - commonly called Obamacare - she doesn’t see them as necessarily linked.

Cartoon characters are used in murals in pediatric treatment rooms in the clinic area of the new ProHealth Care cancer center and clinic in the City of Pewaukee.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff 

“I think even before the Affordable Care Act, we all cared about quality and delivering quality care in the very best way possible,” she said.

One way that ProHealth Care plans to deliver quality care is through its new cancer center.

“I think one of the outstanding efforts that was made here in development of the plans for the cancer center was working with a Patient Advisory Council - patients who had the experience of going through cancer either in the past or currently,” Edwards said. Those patients shared what had worked and what hadn’t with ProHealth Care staff.

Remaining local, independent

While ProHealth Care has committed to staying local and independent, Edwards understands the struggles that some other organizations are going through. Last week, Watertown Regional Medical Center announced it had signed an agreement with for-profit LifePoint Health for a joint venture to share ownership and operation of the hospital. As a result, LifePoint will own 80 percent of the joint venture, while WRMC and the community will retain a 20 percent ownership stake. It will also become a taxpaying organization.

Colorful murals cover the walls of a pediatric treatment room in the clinic area of the ProHealth Care cancer center and clinic in the City of Pewaukee.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff 

“It’s not surprising when you recognize that organizations across the country are seeing the pressures of reimbursement and looking for ways to stay independent and viable to their respective communities. Different boards are deciding different things. Our board has made the decision that we are going to be independent and freestanding and we know what we need to do to be able to do that for this community,” Edwards said.

ProHealth Care remains strong financially and has a strategic plan it continues to follow that identified partnerships as a key element to success.

The effects of Obamacare

While managing reimbursements for services remains a difficult task for health care organizations, Edwards recognizes the benefits of the ACA, saying that in general it has allowed people to have access to insurance exchanges and provided more opportunities for people to seek health care.

“I think the ACA is really geared at changing the way health care is delivered and in that it really focuses on prevention and wellness as opposed to just treating people in an episodic way. I have to believe that’s a good thing across the board,” she said.

Edwards is keeping an eye on what happens at the national level with the upcoming presidential race, as well as what the outcome will be for the Supreme Court case of King vs. Burwell. The case argues that the ACA denies tax subsidies for about 7 million Americans who live in states that use the federal marketplace rather than setting up their own exchange, such as Wisconsin.

What Edwards would like to see from national leaders is a focus on health and preventative care.

“Yes, we can improve what we do on a continual basis, but at some point reimbursements really do need to be at least at a level that keeps an organization sustainable and their communities, because when an organization is no longer sustainable you either partner, like Watertown did as an example, or you lose your ability to keep your doors open. Adequate reimbursement is on everyone’s list of concerns,” she said.