Data, Not Donuts: Building Today’s Skilled Nursing Partnerships

In the past, nailing down a partnership with a local hospital or home health agency might have simply been a matter of providing the right free breakfast to the right group of hungry administrators. But in a world with shifting payment models and increasing emphasis on outcomes, skilled nursing providers must step up their game with cold, hard numbers.

“It’s no longer about donuts — it’s about data,” Joseph Kiernan, chief strategy officer of the New Jersey-based Ocean Healthcare network, said. “If you want to come and have meetings, that’s great — in God we trust, but everyone else must bring data.”

It was a message that came up at sessions throughout the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) Spring Investment Forum in Dallas earlier this month: The days of charming one’s way into a preferred partnership with referral providers are over.

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Now, hospitals want detailed information about the types of outcomes that skilled nursing facilities can provide, as their reimbursements increasingly rely on reduced rehospitalizations and other positive outcomes further along the health care spectrum.

That means no longer sending a SNF’s chief marketing officer as the sole representative when meeting with hospitals, according to Steve Love, president and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council.

“Some of the clinical people get turned off by that,” Love said during a session on partnerships at the NIC forum.

Instead, providers should bring along their high-ranking medical officials and firm numbers. Nicklas Anderson, chief operating officer of skilled nursing operator Plum Healthcare Group, said he tends to make far greater headway with partners when he brings along his medical director.

“When I’m with the doctor, it doesn’t matter who it is — they will listen to what we have to say,” Anderson said. “When I go without him, they don’t really care that much. If we’re trying to break into a new relationship, it makes all the difference in the world.”

Kiernan also said he typically meets with chief medical officers and chief nursing officers when exploring potential partnerships, and emphasized that he prefers the conversation to be a two-way street: Instead of simply asking for referrals, skilled nursing providers should illustrate how they can complement and enhance the hospital or medical providers’ offerings, and vice versa.

“That’s a great tactic to really work with the health system, and to be an engaged partner — not just somebody who shows up at meetings and takes the referrals,” he said.

Data aside, the task of building relationships still rests heavily on old-fashioned trust. But again, instead of free food, SNFs should show that trust through clinical strength.

“Quality is certainly a component. But another component that they’re looking at: Are the clinical folks really involved?” Love asked, explaining the importance of nurses and doctors who truly care about patients and make routine rounds.

In addition, presenting unified care across settings can help build trust among the general public, Love said — while also potentially easing the staffing pressures that operators across the continuum face. For instance, providing wound care services in a skilled nursing facility could take some pressure off hospital employees, which Love said face significant levels of burnout.

And, of course, it isn’t enough just to present numbers and bring along representatives in white coats: SNFs should invest time and money in making sure the data they collect and present is both relevant and trustworthy.

“All the stuff about data is true, but it has to be accurate,” Anderson said.

Written by Alex Spanko

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