Banner’s changes may help it brace for future uncertainty

As the health care landscape continues to change, health care providers have to figure out how to keep up, how to adapt and how to take advantage of the changes to do what’s best for business.

Everyone is making changes, including Banner Health, which has spent a year developing a master plan for one of its campuses, North Colorado Medical Center, with a plan for its other campus, McKee Medical Center in Loveland, under way.

NCMC is preparing to spend some $60 million on improvements at its 1801 16th St. location in Greeley. The aging facility needed some infrastructure upgrades to be sure, but other additions, such as a new lab and pharmacy area, will hopefully help the hospital remain competitive and provide a high standard of care, according to communications officials at the health system.

An update to the McKee master plan is expected by Jan. 1, but what its contents may hold or how much money it will require remains a mystery.

For the NCMC improvements, a $60 million bond was taken out, and it sounds as though something similar will be done with McKee’s improvements. Work at NCMC should begin in summer 2013, once architects and designers have a chance to complete their work.

Even with millions being spent on improving facilities, the changes at Banner are more than building-deep.

Arizona-based Banner realized some time ago that it needed to plan ahead, and that meant making some difficult decisions. In May, the nonprofit announced a plan to cut $150 million in a year across the system’s 23 hospitals.

With many changes already implemented as a result of the Affordable Care Act and countless others to come, it’s a good idea to plan ahead, even though many in the health care industry don’t know exactly what to expect.

One thing is certain, and it’s that providers need to adapt, by making shifts both large and small. Spending $60 million to revamp a hospital can certainly be considered a large shift, but the small ones can be just as significant.

Among these smaller changes is an increased focus on preventive care, according to Banner Western Region President Jim Ferando.

All signs point to keeping patients healthy as the future of health care, rather than treating them when they’re sick, and wellness programs at Banner establishments, as well as University of Colorado Health facilities and independent clinics across Northern Colorado help do just that.

Banner’s partnership with insurer Kaiser Permanente likely reinforces the idea that keeping patients well is the best choice. With its one-word slogan “Thrive,” Kaiser has long been known as a company that promotes healthy diets, plenty of exercise and other habits that keep the human body working as it should.

Kaiser’s first two clinics in Northern Colorado will open next month in Loveland and Fort Collins, cementing a partnership nearly a year in the making. Kaiser policyholders will need to visit Banner hospitals in order to have their care covered in most situations.

Partnering with Kaiser was a good move for Banner, and is another large shift made by the company that may help brace it for change.

The move was especially smart now that competitor Poudre Valley Health System is a part of the ever-expanding University of Colorado Health, whose empire grew from the Denver area to a swath of the Front Range extending from southern Wyoming to Colorado Springs in less than a year.

Before even opening clinics in Northern Colorado, 6,000 residents of the area were Kaiser members, and that number is expanding all the time, and at an increased rate now that Kaiser has stepped up its marketing campaign to announce its increased presence, according to a Kaiser representative.

That’s more than 6,000 potential Banner Health patients that were previously driving south to the Denver or Boulder area for Kaiser-covered care.

Another small, yet noticeable change Banner has made is the merging of its clinics under one name. Banner’s many clinics used to go by many names, but as of Aug. 1, Banner brought them under one name: the easy-to-remember Banner Health Clinic.

The idea is to reinforce the connectivity between the plethora of Banner clinics and establish some solidarity. Sounds like a small thing, but certainly easier to brand and simpler for patients to navigate than clinics that each bear their own name.

Banner, along with 10 other clinics in the market, will also take part in a new model for health care called the Comprehensive Primary Care initiative, which some hope will become the new standard. More details on the program can be found in my story on Page 7.

Molly Armbrister covers health care for the Business Report. She can be reached at (970) 232-3139, at or at

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Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, or

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