Worth the Dues?

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Despite a prominent hospital association departure in Massachusetts, other leaders say the benefits of membership still justify the cost.

Caritas Christi Health Care recently resigned its membership to the Massachusetts Hospital Association. The move will save the Boston-based system roughly $700,000 annually—a substantial amount of money. But should other hospitals reevaluate the return on investment their state hospital associations provide? Under the current uncertain financial climate, hospitals should consider every expense to be on the table to some degree, says Andy McCoy, vice president of revenue management for Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services and its 10 community-based medical centers. Nevertheless, Fairview's senior leadership believes association membership still makes financial sense for the system, he says. "This is an area I feel pretty strongly that we get good value for the money."

State hospital associations provide a way for hospitals to connect with each other and present a united front to the business community and the state and federal legislatures. They also provide educational programs and data that hospitals can use for benchmarking purposes. For example, associations can provide each hospital with the volume of patients by ZIP code, so that they can see what their market share is versus their competitors, says McCoy. "That information has always been useful."

Likewise, Reed Fraley appreciated the advocacy efforts, databases on business development, and the education programs offered by the Ohio Hospital Association during his tenure as the CEO of Ohio State University Hospitals and Health System. Now in his role as senior vice president of the OHA, Fraley works to ensure that other hospital CEOs see the value of their membership.

Senior leaders at the OHA meet fact to face with every hospital CEO once or twice a year, Fraley says, to ensure that hospital CEOs know the association's stance on issues and the services it offers. The association also provides members with tangible data that demonstrates ROI; the OHA's group purchasing program for electricity and natural gas has saved hospital members $30 million in costs since 2000, Fraley says.

But to truly capitalize on the relationship, member hospitals need to do their part and seek out information. "The best thing is to talk with them and ask them what they have available," says McCoy. And if the information you want isn't available, you may be able to help develop and design a program that is beneficial to you, adds Fraley. "We separate fees from membership dues, because we think those should not be confused. Dues are for certain common performances for everybody along advocacy routes. Fees are for those services that we provide for you that are unique."

Fraley hopes that the relationships OHA has built with its members as a trusted advocate and resource will be the tie breaker if the membership dues and fees wind up being somewhat equal to the benefits provided. "I will go back to trust—it's invaluable and intangible, and that, in the end, can be the decisive thing."

—Carrie Vaughan

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