Sen. Cory Gardner Visits New Longmont Hospital
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner visited UCHealth’s Longs Peak Hospital on Tuesday afternoon in Longmont to see firsthand how the hospital system is using technology to care for patients.
Gardner was a divisive national political figure in 2017. He started the year by drawing flack from groups formed in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election for taking monthslong breaks from holding in-person town halls in Colorado.
When asked Tuesday about when he might hold an in-person town hall in Boulder County, Gardner said that he didn’t have his calendar in front of him, but he was happy with the amount of interaction he had with constituents in 2017.
“We’ve done a number of town halls across the state and will continue to. We’ve held tele-town halls and had office hours. We had the opportunity engage over 60,000 people through tele-town halls and thousands of people in town halls, and we’ll continue to do the same,” he said.
In 2017, Gardner held six in-person town halls — in Byers, Durango, Colorado Springs, Greeley, Lakewood and Pueblo .
Gardner was often shouted down and derided at the town halls as constituents expressed anger over his support of President Donald Trump and his votes in the Senate.
His office also fielded calls and sit-ins by protesters who hoped to influence the Republican senator’s votes on the Republican tax bill and efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The tax bill passed 51 to 48 in the Senate, and included a repeal of the ACA mandate that everyone carry health insurance or face a tax penalty.
The hospital that Gardner visited Tuesday opposed the repeal of the individual mandate.
“We did oppose that because we feel strongly that people need coverage and it was one of those things that the American Hospital Association pushed really hard for,” said Jeff Thompson, UCHealth vice president of government and corporate relations. “We are disappointed in that. There are projections that about 13 million people in the U.S. could be left uncovered, although that’s just a projection right now.”
Thompson went on to say that the repeal of the mandate will likely cost Longs Peak Hospital and other hospitals with emergency rooms.
“I think it remains to be seen how much and what the total impact would be, but if people lose coverage and then end up in the emergency room, for instance, who is going to pay? Ultimately, if the individual doesn’t have insurance or isn’t covered by Medicaid or Medicare, that generally falls to the hospital to handle the expenses,” he said.
Gardner responded to questions about his ACA mandate vote by saying that he didn’t feel it was fair that low-income Coloradans would be penalized financially by the federal government for not carrying health insurance.
“Look, over 100,000 Coloradans can’t afford the health insurance they’re mandated to buy and they’re paying a fine right now to the federal government because they can’t afford the insurance that the federal government has made unaffordable,” he said. “I think we’ll be able to find opportunities to drive down the cost of health insurance, but this eliminates the penalty on low-income Coloradans and it was one of the most unpopular provisions of the Affordable Care Act.”
Gardner also defended his vote on the Republican tax bill by saying that more than 91 percent of Americans will receive a tax break because of the bill. He espoused the “trickle down” philosophy the GOP has touted in support of the bill.
“As a result of the passage of the tax bill, we’ve seen over a dozen companies — and many more unreported — that offered salary bonuses, they’ve increased wages and they’ve increased their minimum wage,” he said. “The Bank of Colorado (parent company Pinnacle Bancorp) right here gave $1,000 bonuses to employees because of this, so people are going to be better off.”
Gardner was interested to see Longs Peak Hospital because staff there use a variety of telemedicine technologies.
First, staff showed him how UCHealth doctors who specialize in strokes and are located in Denver can consult with an emergency room doctor dealing with a possible stroke patient in Longmont.
Rooms come equipped with a mobile cart where the specialist doctor can teleconference with a high-resolution camera and monitor. The consulting doctor on the screen and the ER doctor in the room in Longmont collaboratively decide whether a patient is having a stroke and what treatment to administer.
The innovation, and others using similar technology, can reduce the time it takes for triage and to get vital medicine in a patient who is having a stroke.
“Our goal is less than 60 minutes from the time they come in the door to when we get the medicine running in their vein,” Dr. James K. Teumer told Gardner.
Gardner also toured an intensive care unit room outfitted with similar technology and talked with nurses who use special communication and monitoring devices.
The communication device resembles a smartphone and works on the same principle — hospital staff can page any other member of the staff by saying phrases into it such as “call the director of oncology.”
The monitoring device fits on a patient’s wrist and connects to electrocardiogram leads on the chest. This way, nursing staff can monitor a patient’s blood pressure in real time without having to wake them to take a reading every four hours. The devices together means that patients can sleep longer and the communication device eliminates the need for staff to page doctors over the public announcement system.
Gardner seemed particularly interested in whether there were any privacy or IT concerns that comes with the changing technology. UCHealth officials explained that they take extreme measures to keep the system private and HIPAA compliant. While the system operates on fiber-optic-connected Wi-Fi, expanded high-speed broadband networks throughout the country would advance telemedicine considerably, officials said.
Specifically, he spoke with Deborah Voyles, executive director of virtual health at UCHealth, about tweaking Medicare reimbursements to fund hospitals’ telemedicine efforts.
Medicare sees telemedicine as a tool to help patients in rural areas rather than a way for health care providers to better use resources such as specialized doctors or nurses who are in located in different cities.
Longmont is not considered “rural” or “remote” using the Medicare formula and as such, the hospital is not reimbursed for its telemedicine technologies.
Gardner said “we need to fix that” as Congress gears up to discuss Medicare and Medicaid in the new session.
Dr. J. David Cowden, the medical director of Longs Peak Hospital’s critical care services, told Gardner that many legislators who oppose expanding options for telemedicine providers just haven’t seen it in action.
“It’s not replacing medicine; it’s augmenting medicine and supporting medicine so we can rapidly intervene,” Cowden said.
Voyles and Gardner discussed taking savings from Medicare reimbursements for doctor and nurse travel and applying it to reimburse providers for telemedicine technologies.
“I live in a rural area and this could be a life-saving opportunity for us,” said Gardner, who is from Yuma.
Karen Antonacci: 303-684-5226, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/ktonacci