Southern Arizona hospital coalition addresses opioid misuse in rural areas

SAHA.jpgA coalition of five independent Southern Arizona hospitals this week secured a federal grant to diminish opioid misuse and dependence across rural communities in Southern Arizona.

The Rural Health Network Development Planning Grant, which provides about $100,000 in support to the effort, comes through the federal Health Resources & Services Administration. The grant aims to:

  • achieve efficiencies by collaborating with behavioral health and police departments in rural communities
  • expand coordination of quality health care services by identifying shared communication strategies tailored for rural communities
  • strengthen the rural health care system in Southern Arizona by identifying opportunities for the Alliance to better address regional opioid misuse through the implementation of innovative collaborations and strategies

Formed in summer 2015, the Alliance consists of Northern Cochise Community Hospital, Copper Queen Community Hospital, Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center, and Benson Hospital. Tucson Medical Center is the founding member.

“Our Alliance has already demonstrated we can leverage existing relationships within our network to improve the care we deliver,” said Roland Knox, the chief executive officer of Northern Cochise Community Hospital who will lead the grant project. “Although this is a national struggle, Arizona has the fifth highest opioid prescription rate in the nation, and this award will allow us to work in a more coordinated way to improve outcomes for those grappling with this issue.”

Hope Thomas, the network director for the Alliance and TMC’s director of community programs, noted the challenges in rural communities are magnified because of more limited access to health and social services. Thomas noted an average of 26 percent of adults living in Southern Arizona’s rural counties report current prescription drug misuse and fatal opioid overdose in rural areas is as high or even higher than rates in metropolitan areas.

The grant award runs through May 2018.

Arizona Daily Star readers name TMC Best Emergency Department

ContentImageHandler“You could be my mother.”

“You could be my grandfather.”

“You could be my child.”

These are some of the signs posted above patient room doors inside TMC’s Emergency Department. They’re subtle reminders that at TMC, we treat all patients like family.

TMC recently received the Best Emergency Department Reader’s Choice award by the Arizona Daily Star.

We were also named Best Hospital, Best Birthing Center and Best Surgical Weight Loss Center.

TMC’s Emergency Department has worked to streamline quite a bit over the past year. Using a “lean” philosophy to improve processes, a group of specially trained employees work with staff to identify ways to do things better. The goal is to remove any waste and add value to what patients experience day-to-day. Members of TMC’s Lean Team ask patients – what is valuable to you? They also ask front-line staff about issues that can be improved.

The Emergency Department was one of the first assignments.

One of the most noticeable improvements patients see: Gone is the glass window at check-in. A registered nurse welcomes all patients and triages them to the appropriate area. As part of TMC’s improved medical screening exam process, having a health care provider in triage allows for a quick connection with the patient directly. They’re able to order the appropriate diagnostic tests to help cut down on the total amount of time the patient has to stay in the department. Additionally, there is a dedicated provider in each pod who collaborates closely with the nurse to create an individualized plan of care for each patient.

Melissa Ritchey - Copy

Melissa Ritchey, TMC Emergency Department director 

“We know that after you’ve been treated in the Emergency Department, the last thing you want to do is have to wait to go home,” said Melissa Ritchey, department director. “TMC’s Emergency Department has dedicated nurses who focus on discharging patients in a timely manner.”

TMC also has a dedicated pediatric emergency department that is in a separate location away from the adult emergency department, which children may find scary and intimidating. TMC is considered an advanced center for pediatric emergency medicine. Specialized staff and providers care for pint-sized patients.

TMC’s highly skilled Emergency Department staff strive to make every patient’s experience a pleasant and efficient one. Did you know that TMC is considered a Center of Excellence for stroke? Additionally, TMC received the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Get With The Guidelines®-Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award and the Target: Stroke Elite Honor Roll. These designations recognize commitment and success in implementing stroke care that meets strict criteria.We earned these distinctions following an extensive and objective review of our programs. TMC is also a base hospital for rural emergency medical service agencies, which receive annual training and support from TMC Emergency Department staff.

“In our Emergency Department, we are constantly trying to improve how we do things,” said Ritchey. “We listen to feedback and make appropriate changes. This Readers’ Choice award is an indication that Southern Arizona residents have noticed. We appreciate being the hospital you turn to during a health crisis, no matter how big or small. We are mindful that coming to the Emergency Department can be frightening for some patients. We strive for compassionate, efficient care with every single patient. We are Tucson. And we are there for you in an emergency.”

Arizona Daily Star readers name TMC Best Hospital

The Arizona Daily Star recently released its 2015 Readers’ Choice Winners. Tucson residents voted on their favorites in more than 200 categories including shopping, dining and health care.

We are proud to announce that TMC was well represented!

We were named best hospital, best birthing center, best emergency department and best surgical weight loss center. We’ll touch on what makes TMC unique in each of these categories in the coming months but to start, we want to focus on being recognized as best hospital.

Karen Mlawsky TMC Senior Vice President Chief Operations Officer

Karen Mlawsky
TMC Senior Vice President
Chief Operations Officer

“First and foremost, thank you, Tucson, for allowing us to take care of you and your family when perhaps you need it most,” said Karen Mlawsky, TMC senior vice president and chief operations officer. “We know you have many choices when it comes to where you go for medical care. The trust that we have earned from Southern Arizonans is something we cherish and we will work hard to keep it. It is an absolute privilege to care for patients who have immense confidence in us. Patients who write letters or come back to thank our staff in person for their quick, compassionate care is always inspiring.”

TMC has been Tucson’s nonprofit community hospital for 70 years. Our commitment to helping those inside the hospital is just as strong as our dedication to those outside of the hospital. For example, in 2014, we handed out 2,700 booster seats, 1,080 car seats, 7,000 bike helmets and 1,200 swim lessons to deserving families, along with one-on-one education.

TMC is the head of the Southern Arizona Hospital Alliance, helping independent, nonprofit community hospitals in Benson, Bisbee, Safford and Willcox stay that way – independent! The alliance exists to enhance the strengths of these hospitals, help them better serve their patients and thrive financially.

Our inclusion in the Mayo Clinic Care Network is another example of how we are going above and beyond for our patients. Doctors and surgeons who practice at TMC now have access to Mayo Clinic knowledge and expertise to give their patients additional peace of mind when making health care decisions while continuing to care for them close to home.

We are recognized as one of the Top 50 Cardiovascular Hospitals in the country by Truven Health Analytics for having higher inpatient survival rates, fewer complications, lower readmissions, shorter lengths of stay and lower costs per patient. TMC’s Orthopaedic Center was also recently recognized as one of the best hospitals for 2015-16 in knee replacement by U.S. News & World Report.

We are constantly working to improve and streamline patient education materials so that patients and their families know what to expect from the time they walk through our doors for a procedure or surgery, to the moment they leave to go home. From the tiniest patients in our newborn intensive care unit to those who are at the end of their lives and receiving comfort care in Hospice, TMC is there for you during all stages of life.

But perhaps where we really shine is the way our staff treats those who come to TMC. Whether it’s a patient who is fearful as they undergo a procedure, a family member who is looking for the cafeteria or a visitor who needs a shuttle ride to their car, our staff is 3,000 strong and trained to help and practice our values of dedication, community, integrity and compassion – every single day.


Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461