GLENS FALLS — A small OB-GYN practice in Glens Falls may offer a glimpse into the future of health care.
Hudson Headwaters Health Network runs the practice, at 90 South St. Albany Medical Center provides care for women with at-risk pregnancies. Glens Falls Hospital does the lab services. All three are in the same building.
“This is the future of health care,” said Hudson Headwaters CEO Dr. Tucker Slingerland. “That’s the kind of stuff we need to do more of.”
More than a decade ago, Hudson Headwaters made the decision to get out of lab services, said the organization’s chief development officer, Trip Shannon. The group also decided not to get into many specialties, including fetal medicine for at-risk babies. The idea is to provide what’s still needed while avoiding duplication of services and competition with another health care organization.
“We’re really focusing on nonoperative, outpatient services,” Slingerland said.
But it’s not a simple matter of just partnering with those who offer other services.
Hudson Headwaters has also put together a quilt of federal and state grants to fund its operations.
A grant for discounted drugs led to Hudson Headwaters adding space at the OB-GYN building. The agency spent $3 million on the expansion.
“This is a key piece we’re only able to do because of the 340B,” Slingerland said, referring to the name of a federal program.
For those without insurance, the 340B program lets them buy prescriptions written by a Hudson Headwaters practitioner at a deeply discounted rate. Those with insurance buy their prescriptions as normal, but Hudson Headwaters gets to keep the difference between what the insurance paid and the discounted price.
The agency works with every pharmacy in the region to provide the discounts.
“There’s no sense competing with local pharmacies,” Slingerland said.
The pharmacies give Hudson Headwaters the difference between the insurance payment and the discounted price, less a small administrative fee. Last year, that brought in $17 million for Hudson Headwaters.
Glens Falls Hospital isn’t eligible for the program because it doesn’t meet the Medicaid patient threshold required, President and CEO Dianne Shugrue said at a public presentation two weeks ago.
While the savings are restricted to outpatient drugs, the hospital could probably save millions on its cancer drugs alone.
“We’re really unique in that we don’t get any of these” programs, she said.
Hospital officials agree that partnerships could help make some services affordable.
“We agree that strategic partnerships are increasingly important for health-care providers, and we’re pleased to be partnering with Hudson Headwaters to provide laboratory services at their 90 South Street location,” said Vice President of Planning Tracy Mills.
The hospital will have the same partnership at Hudson Headwaters’ Moreau Family Health Center when it is built later this year, she said.
“Providing easily accessible care is a key part of Glens Falls Hospital’s mission, and both of these projects make care more accessible to local people,” Mills said.
But the hospital has to do it without federal help.
Another federal program, the Federally Qualified Health Centers, gets Hudson Headwaters about $7 million a year, which is partly used for the OB-GYN practice. It is used to offer patients throughout the organization a sliding fee scale, as well as shoring up services that don’t break even, like OB-GYN, palliative care and primary care centers in rural areas.
“Indian Lake Health Center is open five days a week. Wouldn’t have happened without 330,” Shannon said, referring to the federal grant.
OB-GYN is a particularly expensive practice.
“The OB-GYN, it’s 24/7, half the babies come at night,” Slingerland said, explaining why it’s hard to make ends meet with that practice.
Hudson Headwaters used yet another federal program to save money on liability insurance, which creates big savings for OB-GYN. On the private market, that insurance is very expensive because small errors can lead to the death of mother or baby.
“Our insurance is through the federal government, which is a big deal,” Slingerland said. “It saves a lot of money.”
It’s hard to say whether the OB-GYN practice and its partners at 90 South St. would be there without all of those government programs. Slingerland noted that Hudson Headwaters has had federal support since 1981, and business decisions as it expanded were based on that support.
But, Shannon said, Hudson Headwaters would definitely not have as many services in as many places as it has without that support.
“There’s no way the access level would stay the same,” he said.