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Medicare & Whatcom County Partners Launch New Care Transitions Project

March 13, 2009

Presentation at 2:45 pm., Friday, March 13 at Christ the King Conference Center, outlines how to help patients move safely between healthcare settings

Bellingham, WA - Whatcom County consumers will be introduced today to a federally-funded initiative that aims to improve healthcare transitions for patients. "Stepping Stones: Bridging Healthcare Gaps" is the Care Transitions Project of Whatcom County, one of only 14 such community projects across the U.S. The Stepping Stones project is being launched today at the 14th annual caregiver conference sponsored by Elder Service Providers.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has contracted with Qualis Health, Washington's quality improvement organization, to engage community partners including providers, patients and families in the project through 2011. Local project co-sponsors are PeaceHealth/St. Joseph Hospital, the Northwest Regional Council and the Critical Junctures Institute.

"The Care Transitions initiative tackles some of the most pervasive and troubling problems facing Medicare beneficiaries as they leave the hospital—medication errors, misunderstandings about the likely course of their condition(s), lack of skills and planning needed in the follow-up period, and other care system shortcomings that end up making far too many Medicare patients come back to the hospital within a few days or weeks," said Barry M. Straube, MD, CMS Chief Medical Officer and Director of CMS’ Office of Clinical Standards & Quality.

"Collaborating with our partners in Whatcom County to improve care transitions is one of our most exciting projects," said Jonathan Sugarman, MD, MPH, President and CEO, Qualis Health, "and a perfect fit with our goal to assure that all patients get the care they need in the right setting and at the right time." Studies across the county have demonstrated that there are potential gaps in communication and coordination when patients transition from one setting or aspect of care to another, resulting in patient risk and increased costs. The aim of this project is to bridge those gaps and enable safer, more effective transitions.

Nancy Steiger, CEO and Chief Mission Officer for the PeaceHealth Whatcom Region, notes that improving how patients transition from one setting to another cannot be done without engagement and cooperation between organizations and people. "We are committed to working with skilled nursing facilities, community physicians, patient families and others to demonstrate what a community committed to a common vision can accomplish."

Steiger went on to point out that St. Joseph Hospital is committed to the Stepping Stones project "not because our re-admission rates are particularly high, but because our commitment is to provide excellent medicine and compassionate care to every patient, every time. Our involvement in the Stepping Stones project helps us fulfill this commitment."


About Qualis Health

Qualis Health is dedicated to improving the quality of healthcare delivery and health outcomes for individuals and populations across the nation. Founded in 1974, the nonprofit healthcare quality improvement organization (QIO) is headquartered in Seattle, Washington, and has regional offices in Idaho, Alaska, California, South Carolina and Nebraska.

About Northwest Regional Council

The Northwest Regional Council (NWRC) / Area Agency on Aging helps seniors and their families access a wide range of public and private resources. Their goal is to support the independence, dignity and health of older adults. Their services are free of charge to adults age 60 and over, and to friends and family members of seniors. More information is available at www.nwrcwa.org.

About Critical Junctures Institute

The Critical Junctures Institute (CJI) is a research institute affiliated with Western Washington University and St. Joseph Hospital/PeaceHealth, with a primary purpose of conducting community-based action research that promotes health. Founded in 2007, CJI is headquartered in Bellingham, Washington and has implemented community-based projects funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Microsoft Be Well Fund and the Washington State Health Care Authority.

About St. Joseph Hospital

PeaceHealth Whatcom Region, sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, is part of the PeaceHealth System with hospitals and medical facilities in Alaska, Washington and Oregon. Locally, PeaceHealth includes St. Joseph Hospital, a not-for-profit, full-service hospital, a diagnostic laboratory, and a joint venture outpatient imaging service, as well as the PeaceHealth Medical Group. Visit www.peacehealth.org/whatcom.

Contact Us

For media inquiries, please contact:

Evan Stults
Vice President, Communications
(206) 288-2458