Courage Center and Sister Kenny will officially come together on Saturday in a merger that brings together two powerhouses in caring for people with disabilities.
The partnership marks a deliberate move by Allina Health, which operates the Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, to strengthen its position in the new world of health care reform.
The merged organization, known as Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, will pull the six Courage Center sites and 29 Sister Kenney hospital and outpatient therapy locations under the new banner within the Allina Health system.
Combining the medical expertise of Sister Kenny with Courage Center’s strong base of community programs and outreach will create the fifth-largest rehabilitation service line in the nation, according to Allina, and put an unparalleled focus on keeping the disability community healthy and productive.
“This is bigger than some people were expecting,” said Jan Malcolm, Courage Center’s CEO, who will become Allina’s vice president of public affairs and oversee the merged foundation. “Our long-term goal is to make that whole, rich set of resources flow in a seamless way for clients and families, as well as providers … without artificial financial incentive pressures or ownership barriers being in the way.”
Under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals will be financially judged by how well they keep people healthy and out of the hospital, not just for providing treatment.
People who are permanently or temporarily disabled, whether by birth, accident or illness, have to navigate some of the most fragmented and difficult-to-access services in the health care realm. Among the hurdles: transportation, vocational training, home care and juggling a massive array of specialty doctors. Not surprisingly, this group spends a hefty chunk on health care services.
Dr. Penny Wheeler, Allina Health’s chief clinical officer, said half jokingly that the ideal would be to “call 1-800-REHAB and have everything taken care of.”
Bringing Courage and Sister Kenny staff, administrative functions, electronic patient records and even medical protocols under one operation moves Allina closer to that goal. Allina hopes to better connect the dots between medical care and community services to help people get back to work, stay in their homes and stay out of the emergency room.
The goal is to make the experience for patients using both Courage Center and Sister Kenny programs more “seamless,” officials said, with a focus on finding the right program and not on who will collect the insurance check.
“Right now, the patient, client or family has to navigate it themselves,” Wheeler said. “This puts their focus on healing; our focus is doing that navigation for them.”
Jaime Anderson probably won’t notice much difference in her recovery efforts, but her caregivers might.
Like many others, the 25-year-old has moved back and forth between services at Sister Kenny and Courage Center as she has clawed her way back after collapsing with a stroke last August.
Anderson spent several days in a hospital intensive care unit, and then three months as a resident at Courage Center. These days, there are multiple therapy and skills training sessions each week at Sister Kenny’s Abbott Northwestern location near downtown Minneapolis and Courage Center’s Golden Valley headquarters. Last week, Anderson, of Cottage Grove, was at Courage Center working on balance and body awareness with occupational therapist Lori Hassink.
“With the merger, it’ll be easier for therapists and trainers because they’ll be on the same system and can communicate more easily about my care,” Anderson said. “And people at Courage Center can contact my doctors. I think it’ll be good for everybody.”
Founded in 1928 as an advocacy group for “crippled children,” Courage Center now serves about 12,000 adults and children each year.
The Golden Valley-based nonprofit saw donations, endowments and income from investments drop during the recession and lingering economic downturn. It had revenue of $43.5 million in 2011.