Where is Pinal County healthcare headed? Wait until dust settles from the ACA

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Copper Area News

Healthcare in Pinal County, as it is elsewhere in Arizona, is in a holding pattern. The industry is waiting to see what happens with the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) before charting a path to the future, according to Thomas Schrayer, director of the Pinal County Department of Public Health.

During the previous decade, there was a lot of growth in the healthcare industry here as the industry moved to serve the growing population in Pinal County’s bedroom community corridor from Apache Junction to Maricopa. And it could grow more in the future as Pinal County becomes its own economic engine and not a satellite of Phoenix and the near East Valley suburbs, Schrayer said.

Future growth also will be determined by the final rules of ACA once the dust settles from its formation. A major thrust of ACA will be to convert healthcare from an industry that primarily serves people when they get sick to one the primarily works to keep people from getting sick, Schrayer noted.

“I’d like to say that since I took office that I quadrupled the number of hospitals in the county, but that was the work of the free market system moving in to serve a growing population,” he said.

Only a few years ago, the only hospital in Pinal County was the Casa Grande Medical Center. But that hospital has since been purchased by Banner Health, which improved its financial footing. Since then the county has seen the opening of Banner Ironwood Medical Center in San Tan Valley in 2011, and the opening of Florence Hospital at Anthem and Banner Goldfield Medical Center in Apache Junction in 2012. The latter resulted when Banner Health purchased and upgraded a doctors’ clinic called Arizona Regional Medical Center.

A fifth hospital, Florence Community Medical Center, started up in 2010 but closed in 2012 after filing for bankruptcy. Banner Health and Dignity Health are reported looking into building a new hospital in Maricopa, but Schrayer doesn’t see that happening for at least five years.

All four current hospitals have emergency rooms and perform surgery. The most services are offer by Banner Casa Grande, which include an anticoagulation clinic, a cardiac care unit, infection control, maternity services, medical imaging, Pediatric care, and a sleep-depravation lab.

Pinal County also currently has three ambulatory surgical centers, three behavioral inpatient clinics, seven renal care (dialysis) clinics, nine federally-qualified health centers, four medical hospices, 82 outpatient treatment centers, and three rural health clinics (the latter in Kearny, Coolidge and Superior). The whole list can be viewed by going to www.azdhs.gov/als/databases/index.htm and clicking the PDF by Medical Providers. The Pinal County list begins on page 512.

According to Schrayer, the number of physicians practicing in Pinal County, although some also have practices in Maricopa County. The exact number in Pinal County is not known, though one can find a Pinal County physician in one of more than 50 specialties at www.azmd.gov and click Doctor Search.

“What we need more in Pinal County are primary care doctors,” Schrayer said. “As the industry shifts to disease and illness prevention, these doctors will be needed on the front lines. We aim to try and convince more such doctor to hang their shingle in Pinal County.”

James Hodl (36 Posts)

James J. Hodl is a career journalist who has worked for newspapers, magazines and trade journals. A graduate of Southern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism, Hodl began his career as a reporter with the Palatine (IL) Herald and the Morton Grove (IL) Review before becoming editor of the trade publication Appliance Service News. In recent years, Hodl has had articles published in Consumers Digest, Good Housekeeping, Home Remodeling, Kitchens & Baths and Salute; and has contributed to trade publications serving the home furnishings, restaurant and casino markets. A native of Chicago, Hodl relocated to San Tan Valley in 2013.

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