By Santa Clara Supervisor Ken Yeager.
The past several weeks have been an emotional roller coaster on so many levels because of the presidential election, especially when I think about health care for the residents in our communities. I am filled with anxiety, but also resolve to do everything I can to make sure that the great strides in health care we’ve made over the last decade are not lost.
With a combination of research, public health campaigns (such as reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and treating e-cigarettes and vaping like tobacco), and, perhaps most importantly of all, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, we have improved the overall health outcomes in Santa Clara County.
In our county, we recognized the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, as a tremendous opportunity to significantly improve the health of a large number of Santa Clara County residents. One of my top priorities since then has been to ensure that the county-owned hospital Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (VMC), and the entire public health care system, takes full advantage of the reforms.
I’m happy to report that Obamacare has been an enormous success here. More than 130,000 county residents have gained health coverage through the Medi-Cal expansion. Approximately three-quarters of all Santa Clara County Medi-Cal patients now use VMC – leading to a whopping 91% drop in the number of uninsured patients treated by the hospital since December 2013. The drop in uninsured patients has resulted in an increase in revenue at VMC, with the hospital in the red for the first time in a decade. This allows the county to focus resources on other critical local services.
Local programs and services and the quality of care at VMC have also dramatically improved. We are proud to report that it had the lowest death rates among all nine Santa Clara County hospitals for heart attacks, strokes, and pneumonia. Mortality rates due to infections have also been cut in half. Not only that, but wait times at VMC’s emergency room, in its pharmacies, and on its phone system have all been dramatically reduced. Our readmission rate is now lower than Stanford’s and all but one other hospital in the County, as well as lower than both the state and national average. And perhaps most important of all, fewer people are forced to seek expensive ER care because they have been able to get preventative and early treatment through health insurance coverage made possible by Obamacare.
Disruptive innovation is a phrase that is thrown around so much in Silicon Valley that it has become trite. However, at Santa Clara Valley Health and Hospital system, including VMC, the change in the health care landscape really did prompt a wave of innovative thinking and policies. As a result, we are now serving more patients than ever and our patient satisfaction is higher than it has ever been. And it has all been more cost effective due to the ACA.
These improvements have made Santa Clara one of the healthiest counties in the state. Now, more than ever, it is crucial for California’s counties and CSAC to demonstrate our progress in providing quality health care, achievements in cost efficiency, and, most importantly, healthier residents in our counties.