On the heels of an agreement last autumn to provide Walmart associates with spine care, Mercy Hospital Springfield has been selected as a center of excellence for a first-of-its-kind National Employers Centers of Excellence (ECEN) program that will bring patients to the Ozarks from other parts of the country for knee and hip replacements.

Walmart, Lowe’s and other large employers have joined the Pacific Business Group on Health Negotiating Alliance (PBGH-NA) to improve the medical care their employees receive while reducing their costs. This agreement covers 1.5 million employees and their dependents who are enrolled in the companies’ medical plans. They will be eligible for no-cost knee and hip-replacement surgeries at four hospital systems in the United States, which have been designated as “Centers of Excellence.” Those systems include Mercy Hospital Springfield; Johns Hopkins, Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, Md.; Kaiser Permanente Orange County Irvine Medical Center in Irvine, Calif.; and Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Wash.

“These companies are working to help make sure that their employees get higher quality care and incur lower costs,” said David Lansky, president and CEO of PBGH. “The national Employers Centers of Excellence Network is designed to serve as a model for delivering high quality health care with transparent and predictable costs.”

If employees travel to one of the Centers of Excellence for care, they will receive consultations and surgeries covered at 100 percent with no deductible or coinsurance, plus travel, lodging and living expenses for the patient and a caregiver. The program is voluntary and employees and their covered dependents can still choose to receive care from local providers and incur routine costs.

“This national program is about providing our associates with exceptional care and reducing their medical costs so that they pay nothing out of pocket when they use one of the designated facilities,” said Sally Welborn, senior vice president of global benefits at Walmart. “Each of these providers has a proven record of practicing evidence-based medicine with above average positive patient outcomes in knee and hip replacement procedures.”

The idea of traveling for care is often referred to as destination medicine. “When people from other places choose to come here for care, it’s good for our community in a variety of ways,” explained Dr. Robert W. Steele, president of Mercy Hospital Springfield. “It not only brings in visitors and revenue, it means we’re offering the kind of value people are willing to leave home to find. That assures our local patients they don’t need to go anywhere else for exceptional care.”

Patients who come to Springfield will receive their care at Mercy Orthopedic Hospital Springfield. The newly-opened facility includes doctors’ offices, 10 operating rooms and 48 inpatient beds. “This is where you see the benefit of being a highly integrated health care facility,” said Dr. Alan Scarrow, president of Mercy Clinic Springfield Communities. “There is a big advantage in being one organization with hospitals and physicians together and that is we can make a complicated process simple.  For businesses it’s simple because they can deal with one entity, get their employees the care they need, and get one inclusive bill.  For employees they can make one phone call and have their appointments set up with all the relevant specialists.  Once they arrive on campus they have those visits in one building on a single day and then if a procedure is appropriate, have it done in the same building.”