Burning Questions: Coming together for kids

Burning Questions: Coming together for
kids' health
Systems join forces on Catalpa mental services
9:22 PM, Apr. 2, 2012 |
Written by
Larry Avila
Post-Crescent business editor
Executives representing the Fox Cities major health systems say the most effective way
to address mental health issues in children and adolescents is to join forces.
This was among the factors that drove Appleton-based ThedaCare, Affinity Health
System in Menasha and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin to form Catalpa Health, a new
independent organization.
Travis Andersen, president of Affinity's St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton; Dean Gruner,
president and CEO of ThedaCare; and Cindy Christensen, president and COO of
Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, on Thursday discussed the initiative on Newsmakers,
The Post-Crescent's weekly issues program. Here's an edited transcript:
What was behind forming Catalpa?
Andersen: I think if you go back, this is the second generation of this program. The
change really came from the 2011 LIFE study, which indicated the need for children's
mental health services. We're challenging the community to take a different approach.
We started with one good model and it evolved into what can we do better than what
we're doing today. I think the new model lets us go all in, so to speak.
Why is it right to do this now?
Gruner: If you don't work in health care, you may say that the services available for
(adolescent mental health) is disorganized. There are a multitude of services today. The
way we practice today, our primary care physicians are our front line and seeing the
issues that come up. Our pediatricians and family doctors also are playing dual roles
now. Will be able to refer patients to this service if they need more advanced care.
Is there a particular issue Catalpa will initially address?
Christensen: Nationally, there is a need for pediatric mental health services. In
Milwaukee or even in the Fox Valley, this need is not unique. What we have is a better
solution than some other places. I believe that the suicide rate (among teens) is an
issue of concern. As many services and resources that are here in the Fox Cities, the
community believed we didn't have enough and what was here was not organized in a
way that someone could easily find.
What is it about the Fox Cities that fosters collaboration?
Andersen: I do believe this works in the Fox Cities because we have a history of
working together collaboratively in the community. As a community, we tackle issues
head on. Affinity and ThedaCare, for example, have a great track record of working
together. Gold Cross Ambulance is a good example of a great care joint venture that's
more than two decades old where we came together to benefit the community.
How do you plan to get the word out about Catalpa's services?
Christensen: (Children's Hospital) already is serving a lot of children, but we're also
turning a lot of children away. We only have a certain number of providers. We hope as
we become more efficient by banding together, we can serve more people. We will be
working with schools and primary care physicians so I don't think there will be any
shortage of finding people who have needs.
Can Catalpa's services lead to improved care access?
Gruner: I think so. When you start working with people with other organizations, now
what happens is it opens the doors. We see every day a variety of health problems
facing the country, so there are opportunities.
Since Catalpa's formation was announced in February, what has been the response?
Christensen: Primarily the buzz is, "Thank you for tackling this issue." It's not a great
profit margin. But for the schools, primary care providers, moms and dads out there, the
conversation has been thank you for continuing to put time and resources into this
Is Catalpa patterned after another business model?
Gruner: Pediatric mental health is a financial loss for everyone. What everyone is trying
to do is lessen the loss. A number of systems across the country are exiting this
business for financial reasons and I can understand those financial reasons. That's a
shame because where that is happening, those kids also need support. The current
model only is giving access to half the children who need mental health services. We're
losing about $2.3 million (annually) on providing this service.
With this new model, the hope is we can improve the financial performance so we can
reduce that loss to $1.7 million by pooling our resources. We will be able to service
more children. So we're not doing this as a profit center. When we're asked why would
we tackle this, the simple answer is because it's the right thing to do.
Can you give us an update on the organization?
Andersen: We've assembled a board of directors. The community leadership is a starpacked group of people. The first item for the board will be implementation and getting a
new leader on board. There will be more for us to do in the development of a new
company for the next six to nine months.
Will the new leader shape the organization?
Gruner: In general, the mission will be shaped by the board, but the management team
with the president in place will have a lot of work to do. It's a hybrid organization but not
a complete start-up because it's taking existing services from three organizations and
bringing it into one. It's really about rallying the troops and getting people to work
together and create a synergy.
Children seem to be under more pressure today than in the past. Is this driving more
need to launch Catalpa?
Christensen: Mental health needs come from so many different areas. There are
pressures children are under today, pressure to get good grades, pressure to perform
well in sports. Cyber bullying really is becoming an issue. It's a natural to do this now.
Life just seems harder now than it used to be.
Where did the name come from?
Andersen: Catalpa is a strong, sheltering tree. When we did surveys with parents, they
don't want to take their child to a mental health center or center with a name that's
clearly defined what the services are. The idea of changing the name all together and
not giving it a health system name gives it a unique identifier to people. It demonstrates
naming something totally different so that there are no barriers and no stigma
associated with it.
What happens now and moving forward?
Gruner: I hope we will be able to see more kids and that we're better equipped. So
when you think of care, in life if we do it well early and prevent illness, what people want
is better care and to save money.
Christensen: The case workers want the system to work better. They are finding
themselves doing wasteful things and would rather be taking care of children and
adolescents. If we can pull this together and manage it in a way where we optimize
everything where everyone can optimize their skill sets, ultimately the providers will be
more satisfied and will be able to attract more providers to come work for us.
Andersen: From my perspective, if we can bring this together, this community model,
having people work together to take care of patients, it will show other providers across
the nation that this is the place to be to retain top talent when it comes to adolescent
behavioral health.