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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Intermountain Medical Center in Murray is pictured on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017.

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky famously said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

James “Cid” Seidelman

While this quotation is frequently used, it’s especially fitting to describe the situation of Intermountain Healthcare, which is close to completing a major restructuring process that’s designed to improve quality and access to care while restraining the rise in costs. Why would a vibrant organization that serves patients and communities well and that’s widely regarded as one of the leading American health systems reorganize itself?

The answer is simple: to stay vibrant so it can continue to help patients and communities.

Intermountain is taking the initiative and making some changes proactively now so it will be able to fulfill its mission even better in the future. By acting now, Intermountain will remain a health care pace setter rather than having to play catch-up from a potentially weaker position, jeopardizing service to Utahns.

Being a change-maker rather than a change-taker has always been the Intermountain way. Innovation was hard-wired into the culture from the moment of inception in 1975, when the LDS Church asked Intermountain to manage its 15-hospital system in the best interest of patients and communities. In donating the hospitals, the church asked for nothing but made one request: that Intermountain should always strive to be a model of not-for-profit health care and an example that other systems around the world would want to emulate.

Intermountain has always sought to live up to that request — its history is a story of constant development and reinvention. It’s been a model of action, not inaction. From the clinical and financial information systems that set the pace for the nation in the 1970s, through the development of health plans, a medical group, and clinical programs in subsequent decades, change has been constant. What began as a collection of hospitals serving a relatively small population in a Western state has emerged as one of America’s most respected health systems.

Restructuring within any organization results in some anxiety and concern among employees, and Intermountain’s latest reorganization has been no exception. The recent announcement of a partnering arrangement affecting about 6 percent of Intermountain’s workforce has been scrutinized, though the affected employees — all non-clinical — will maintain employment with the new company on similar terms. This arrangement avoids the layoffs seen at so many other health care organizations, such as Ascension Health, which recently said it was laying off 500 employees in Michigan, or Tenet Healthcare, which is cutting 1,300 jobs across the country. Intermountain’s approach is saving jobs. As an economist who watches workforce reductions in different sectors, I can’t recall a more ethical and humane approach than Intermountain’s.

In making these changes, Intermountain is measuring success in terms of better care to patients and improved benefits to the community. Patients are seeing better clinical outcomes — such as reduced mortality and re-admissions — and improved access through scheduling improvements, extended hours and telehealth services. Affordability is being improved in several ways, such as the SelectHealth Share health insurance product that is offering a guaranteed low 2 percent annual premium increase in the last two years of a three-year contract. This at a time when large employers are expecting annual health benefit cost increases of greater than 4 percent.

Intermountain is exceptionally effective as a community partner. It not only cares for the most vulnerable populations in many ways, relieving the burden on government to do so; it also works proactively to prevent illness and injury, making our communities safer and healthier. In its support of safety net clinics, rural health care, medical education and research, direct charity care, grants to other health agencies, and work to address the social determinants of health (such as education, housing, and transportation), Intermountain is a force for good on which many people depend. To continue this work, the organization needs to continually develop and innovate.

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Intermountain’s culture and tradition is constant change. It has been a model of progress. What never changes at Intermountain is its service-based mission, vision and values. Those commitments — focused on helping people live the healthiest lives possible — endure and guide the organization’s development.

As the recent restructuring at Intermountain concludes in the weeks to come, will the effort have been worth it? As a volunteer trustee of Intermountain, I’m confident the answer is yes. To be a leader and a model to others, you can’t stand still — you need to move forward and climb higher. You need to skate to where the puck is going to be. That’s what Intermountain is doing now, as it has always done.