Health care still a job engine in region

The United States saw its first decrease in health-care employment in a decade at the end of 2013, but Northern Colorado and the Boulder Valley are bucking that trend, with several new health-care projects in the works.

Changes in health care, from new technologies to shifts in the way providers are paid, caused the nation to lose 6,000 jobs in December, the biggest loss since July 2003, when the industry shed 9,000 jobs.

But in Larimer, Weld, Boulder and Broomfield counties, health-care companies have added about 1,000 jobs in each of the past two years, according to data from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

All four counties together had 47,458 people working in the health-care sector as of the third quarter of 2013, the most recent data available, an increase of about 2 percent over the same period in the previous year.

Many of those work for large health-care systems such as Banner Health, which employs 4,500 people in Larimer and Weld counties with a payroll of about $252 million, according to spokesman Paul Matthews.

One factor in the region’s ability to maintain health-care employment is the strong economy and a quality of life that draws people from across the nation, said Karen Haight, director of sourcing for physician and provider recruitment for Banner Health’s western region.

More people living in a region means greater need for health-care services. Banner Health is building a new medical campus in Fort Collins, including a 24-bed inpatient facility, which will employ 150 people when it opens in 2015.

Other area projects include University of Colorado Health’s cancer center, under construction at the system’s Harmony Road campus in Fort Collins; Columbine Commons, a skilled-nursing and assisted-living facility completed last year by Columbine Health Systems in Windsor; and Clear View Behavioral Health, a 92-bed mental-health hospital in Johnstown.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act also is having an impact on employment by changing the way providers are paid, switching from a fee-for-service model to an outcomes-based model, said Stephen Summer, chief executive of the Colorado Hospital Association.

Rather than being paid for each service rendered, providers will be paid based on the overall health of their patients. This change has placed an increased focus on wellness and prevention.

Englewood-based Centura Health announced earlier this month that it will open three new wellness centers – in Westminster, Thornton and Dacono – as part of its health neighborhood approach, which creates a team of professionals to help keep patients well through the use of health-care navigators and care coordinators.

“Expanding our presence into these communities will ensure we are meeting the individual health needs of these fast-growing areas,´ said Jeff Brickman, president of Centura Health’s Mountains and North Denver Operating Group, in a statement.

It is not yet clear how many people will be hired to staff the new facilities, said Sharon Burnette, interim group director of marketing and communications at Centura, but they will employ physicians and specialists, as well as a variety of support staff.

Employed physicians are those who work for a health system or hospital rather than maintaining an independent practice. More physicians are choosing this option in the wake of health-care reform, which has created uncertainty on many levels for independent providers.

According to a study by New York-based consulting firm Accenture, 212,000 physicians were employed by hospitals and health systems nationwide in 2012, compared with 160,000 in 2000, an increase of 32 percent.

When a health system employs a physician, said Haight, it also must hire support staff including nurses, lab technicians and administrative staff.

The Affordable Care Act also authorized Medicaid expansion for states, which Colorado approved in May 2013. So far, 135,560 new Medicaid patients have been added to state rolls, and more providers will be needed to care for these patients, many of whom require care for chronic conditions or other severe health problems.

Molly Armbrister can be reached at 970-232-3139 or marmbrister@ncbr.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MArmbristerNCBR.

Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, marmbrister@ncbr.com or twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR

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