It seems that just about everyone has an opinion regarding the possible partnership between Boone Hospital and MU Health. Some folks think it’s a great idea, one that will make Columbia a medical destination for patients from all over the state of Missouri and beyond. Others think it would be a huge mistake to grant a medical monopoly to the University system, arguing that without competition, the quality of service will suffer. Who’s right? Who’s wrong?
While it is true that I am the proud spouse of an MU Health employee, I have a high opinion of Boone Hospital also. My father and grandmother have both been Boone patients on many occasions, and the care they’ve received has always been top notch. Therefore, I think I can honestly claim to be fairly neutral in the merger debate.
An online petition I stumbled across the other day is decidedly non-neutral. Advocating against the partnership and claiming that University Hospital is “widely disliked in Columbia,” the author of the petition claims that “most people with a choice choose Boone.” While there is no doubt that UH has its share of detractors, (as I am sure Boone does, too), it is simply not true that most people choose Boone.
University Hospital’s services have been in such high demand in recent years that it is no longer possible to accommodate all of its patients in one location. Today UH, Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, Missouri Orthopaedic Institute, and some 60 outpatient clinics serve the community’s needs under the umbrella and leadership of MU Health. And those beds and buildings are full.
Another argument put forth by the petitioner states that a merger would eliminate choice, and that where there is no competition, “the patients WILL suffer.” The best way I can think of to debunk this argument is by referring back to my band geek days. Bear with me.
My best friend and I both played trombone in high school. We were good. And we were competitive. We pushed each other every day to become better by competing for the honor of “first chair” in our section. Yet we were playing as members of the same band. Because of our friendly rivalry, we both became very good musicians, eventually earning performance scholarships in college, and our band won numerous first place trophies at marching and jazz contests. Although we were both on the same team, we still competed with one another and made the other better, and the quality of our musicianship and of the band’s performances improved as a result.
The music did not suffer, and neither will patients. Friendly competition and a high level of collaboration among some of the most highly-trained and skillful medical professionals anywhere can only enhance patient care mid-Missouri.
I also read some negative comments online about MU Health stating things like, “I would never go to UH. I’ve heard too many horror stories.” I find it interesting that people hear so many horror stories, yet have so few horror stories of their own to tell from first-hand experience.
It is a fact that when treating thousands of patients, both MU Health and Boone Hospital do unfortunately have the occasional negative outcome. Personnel at both systems are human and do make mistakes. But in my experience in getting to know dozens of therapists, nurses, doctors, and administrators at MU Health in the eight years my wife has worked there, I know beyond any doubt that those professionals are singularly focused on patient satisfaction and achieving the best possible outcomes. And in my dealings with the staff at Boone following my dad’s heart attacks and the countless times my 93 year-old grandmother has been admitted, I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that they are just as committed to their patients.
A final objection I feel compelled to address is the claim that costs will go up if the merger takes place. Medicare and private insurance companies don’t care if five hospitals are controlled by one entity or if one hospital is run by five entities. Insurers pay a set amount per service provided, and hospitals rarely collect the full, remaining balance due from patients. Do some research and find out how many millions of dollars in unpaid bills both hospitals write-off every year. You’ll be shocked. Could they raise prices following a merger? Sure they could. But will they be able to actually collect those extra dollars? Not likely.
I truly don’t care if MU Health and Boone Hospital merge or not. There are legitimate pros and cons to both sides of the argument. What concerns me is that people are vilifying the compassionate professionals working at either of our outstanding local hospitals. These healthcare workers have dedicated their lives to making our lives better, and they will not allow any business arrangement to compromise their mission in any way.