Whither HCMC?

Hennepin County Medical Center in downtown Minneapolis might seem far away from the rest of Minnesota, but the ripple effects of budget cutbacks at HCMC are likely to be felt across the state.

Exactly what’s at risk is laid out on a recently launched Web site, willyoulose.org. I’ll let the folks at HCMC explain why they are undertaking this campaign:

willyoulose.org is filled with stories about the important role HCMC plays in ensuring a well-trained health care and first responder workforce, emergency readiness programs, high quality trauma, specialty care and access to health care for all. In addition, patients, families and others who have been touched by HCMC are invited to share their stories on the site.

"Minnesotans need to understand what’s at stake if the cost of providing care to more and more uninsured Minnesotans is shifted to hospitals," said Mike Harristhal, vice president of public policy. "Safety net hospitals play a number of other critical roles in the state, and if they face a significant loss of compensation when caring for uninsured patients, other programs and services for all Minnesotans could be in jeopardy."

Willyoulose.org doesn’t tiptoe around the magnitude of what could happen next year if General Assistance Medical Care, a publicly funded program that covers the poorest of the poor, is not restored. A section labeled "the fallout" shows a map of Minnesota with the impact spreading out in concentric circles. There are some eye-catching graphics, especially the Photoshopped sign for Mora, Minn., "Pop. 0 doctors", and the do-it-yourself dental kit consisting of a pliers.

Here’s the tally of the services HCMC provided last year to those of us living in the Seventh Congressional District: 440 emergency department visits, 649 inpatient hospital stays, 1,664 clinic visits and outpatient services, 1,133 uninsured patient visits, $1,256,929 in uninsured charges for care, 12,207 calls to the Poison Center.

I’ve lost track over the years of how many times the West Central Tribune has reported on highway crashes in which severely injured drivers and passengers were taken to HCMC. HCMC is the largest Level 1 trauma center in the state. It also has a critical burn unit and a hyperbaric oxygen chamber for treating carbon monoxide poisoning.

If you look closely at a Willmar Ambulance Service rig, you’ll see that among the logos on the side is one for Hennepin County Medical Center. That’s because the local ambulance service has had a contract with HCMC since 2004, bringing added expertise in training and management to help raise local services to the highest level possible.

And if you were to ask local health care professionals about their training, you would find that many of them honed their skills through residencies, fellowships and other training and education programs at HCMC.

MinnPost reports that the "Will You Lose" campaign is operating on a shoestring budget: $30,000, to be exact. The money is being spent on the Web site, plus some print advertising and billboards. Organizers also are leaning heavily on the social media, i.e. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, to spread the word.

When a hospital with the stature of HCMC is forced to beg in order to maintain its services and keep the doors open as one of Minnesota’s most important safety-net hospitals, it’s a revealing commentary on the times in which we live. But for an organization whose tagline is "Every life matters," I would expect no less than for HCMC and its supporters to do their best to rise to this enormous challenge.

Photo: HCMC.org

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