By Greg Paeth
Big picture: St. Elizabeth will lead Northern Kentucky to become one of the healthiest communities in the country.
Much smaller picture: The utility knife slipped while you were cutting linoleum for the laundry room floor and you need six stitches to patch up your left index finger.
In Northern Kentucky, St. Elizabeth Healthcare and “the hospital” are pretty much synonymous, and St. E’s has established itself as the institution that addresses the complex, long-term health-related issues as well as the minor emergencies that confront thousands of people every day of the year.
In late 2017 or early 2018, the St. E system will expand substantially with the $40 million Northern Kentucky Behavioral Health Hospital, which is under construction just west of I-71/75 in Erlanger. St. Elizabeth has partnered with SUN Behavioral Health of Red Bank, N.J., on a 197-bed hospital being designed for psychiatric and substance abuse care.
A Catholic institution that opened its doors in Covington in 1861, year one of the Civil War, St. Elizabeth has grown into the dominant healthcare institution in Northern Kentucky with more than 115 primary case and specialty locations. It is the third-ranked provider in the 2.1 million-population Cincinnati metropolitan area when measured by annual revenues.
During 2016, St. E’s got even larger.
OHC (Oncology Hematology Care), which had operated in Cincinnati for more than 30 years, became part of St. Elizabeth Healthcare in July. OHC, which specializes in adult cancer care and complex blood disorders, had a staff of 50, including 10 doctors, when the merger occurred.
St. Elizabeth emphasized the critical need for first-rate cancer care when the merger was finalized.
“According to the National Cancer Institute’s Kentucky profile, Kenton County has the third highest rate of annual cancer diagnosis in the commonwealth, with Boone County following in sixth and Campbell County in eighth,” St. Elizabeth said when the OHC agreement was announced.
“From a national level, Kentucky is one of five states with the highest incidence rate for cancer, with Kentucky having the highest death rate of all. With this new affiliation, the level of quality and comprehensive care will be improved not only for Northern Kentucky, but other surrounding regions,” the hospital states.
With the addition of OHC, St. Elizabeth has a staff of about 490 doctors, including some 120 specialists, as well as 1,100 “non-provider associates” on a medical staff that handles 1.3 million patient visits per year at 116 location in six Kentucky counties, Cincinnati-dominated Hamilton County in Ohio, and Dearborn County in the southeast corner of Indiana.
For 2015, St. Elizabeth reported patient revenues of nearly $910 million from its four hospitals in the heart of Northern Kentucky, where it has a total of about 1,040 beds in Edgewood, Florence, Fort Thomas and Grant County. Additionally, the hospital notes, it provides more than $100 million in what it calls “uncompensated care.”
Edgewood, in suburban Kenton County, is home to the largest of the individual hospitals with 510 beds and a staff of more than 3,600. The Fort Thomas hospital, second-largest with 332 beds and 700 staffers, had been St. Luke Hospital for 54 years before its system merged into St. Elizabeth in 2008. That merger included St. Luke West in Florence, which was originally Booth Memorial Hospital, which had been acquired by St. Luke’s in 1989.
Part of a five-system market
Northern Kentucky is truly different from other parts of the commonwealth, according to a number of people interviewed for this publication, such as Sarah Giolando, senior vice president and chief strategy officer for St. Elizabeth.
“Northern Kentucky is a unique part of the state because we are part of the Greater Cincinnati market. So if you talk to anyone from Northern Kentucky, they shop at the Kenwood Mall (in Ohio) and people from downtown (Cincinnati) shop at the Kroger and the Target that are right across the river in Newport,” Giolando said. “Although there is a barrier there of a river and some bridges, we’re really a suburb of Cincinnati, so there’s always a percentage of people in Northern Kentucky who seek medical care in Cincinnati and vice versa.”
Giolando estimates about 70 percent of Northern Kentuckians who are admitted to a hospital for at least one day do so at a St. Elizabeth facility. It’s far more difficult to determine a market share for the number of outpatient visits and procedures because those numbers can be elusive.
Overall, for a metropolitan area of about 2.1 million people, St. Elizabeth has a 12 or 13 percent share of the healthcare market, she estimated.
“I would say Cincinnati is one of the most competitive healthcare markets in the United States with five major systems operating in Cincinnati, which is a lot,” Giolando said.
“There’s a lot of brick and mortar, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses kind of building going on, where you’ve got up in Liberty Township, north of Cincinnati, a hospital on each of four corners (of a major intersection) — so it’s little bit crazy over there in terms of what it does to overall healthcare costs,” she said.
In recent years, St. Elizabeth has received accolades from a number of publications and professional organizations for overall excellence or for the performance of individual departments. Most recently, for example, Healthgrades, an online source for information about hospitals and doctors, said St. E was among the top 5 percent of all hospitals in the United States for cardiac care.
St. Elizabeth also stands out in the Cincinnati metropolitan area as the only regional member of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic Care Network, to which it was admitted four years ago.
Based in Rochester, Minn., Mayo Clinic now works with St. Elizabeth when the local hospital believes that an unusual case may need a “second opinion” or when it wants to compare and assess best practices.
“We were the tenth healthcare system to join the Mayo Clinic Care Network and there are now 44 here (in the U.S.) and abroad,” Giolando said. “They explained to me there are now 44 members and they have had 1,000 applications … 1,000 have tried to become part of their network, and they have selected 44. They have a very vigorous process to assure that every facility in their network is as high quality as they are to deliver the kind of patient experience that they want to put their name behind.”
Two of the large healthcare systems based in Cincinnati have doctors’ offices in Northern Kentucky but don’t operate hospitals south of the river. UC (University of Cincinnati) Health Physicians has an office in Florence, and Christ Hospital has an outpatient center in Fort Wright.
For 2015, for example, the annual report from the United Health Foundation and the American Public Health Association ranked Kentucky 44th in the country, which was three slots better than 2014.
Smoking, obesity and a lack of exercise were cited as primary factors in the state’s low ranking in several studies.
Giolando said the recently adopted vision statement for the hospital – working to make the region one of the healthiest in the country – is a direct response to Kentucky health challenges.