Schwabe recently teamed up with American City Business Journals to take the pulse of nearly 600 business and health care executives and patients about the state of the industry.

What they found, not surprisingly, is that health care leaders’ top concerns are staffing, staff burnout and cost growth.

Most patients in the Pacific Northwest have a positive overall impression of the industry, but their largest frustrations revolve around lack of access to doctors, high costs and poor customer service.

Of the 576 respondents, 173 worked in the health care industry.

We spoke with Anne Talcott, the Portland-based law firm’s Healthcare and Life Science Industry Group Leader, about the findings from the State of the Healthcare in the Pacific Northwest report.

What prompted the survey? One of the largest things to affect the country, the world and the industry was Covid. The challenges before the pandemic were amplified further by Covid. We wanted to examine the experiences and impressions of key stakeholders and a cross section of respondents.

Were there any surprises? The biggest surprise to me was that the survey responses were quite positive in terms of the outlook for the industry in the Northwest, particularly in Oregon, both from patients and industry. Compared to national statistics, something like 86% of Oregon patients are satisfied with their health care compared to 40% in the nation. So that’s a really good takeaway for the industry as a whole, that despite the challenges we faced and a global pandemic, patients are feeling satisfied with the health care they’re receiving.

Were there other positives? Certainly, there were challenges with staffing but the other thing that was a takeaway is that health care leaders felt the industry is more prepared for disruptions, having gone through the pandemic. They came out stronger and innovations were adopted, like telemedicine, and increased access to mental health care that are positives for patient health care in the future.

How about the greatest challenges facing the industry? Coming out of the pandemic, a lot of providers and health care staff decided to retire; you have burnout from the extreme conditions staff and providers were working under during the pandemic.

What about solutions? Things the industry is looking to do include increasing competitive pay and benefits. The Oregon Pay Equity law is set to address that. We’ve seen clients lean into things like peer counseling, in addition to formal mental health benefits, employee development, culture, values and greater flexibility in recognition that staffing shortages are addressed best with employee retention, because you will have natural attrition anyway.

How do respondents view Oregon’s new health care mergers and acquisitions law? It’s certainly something Oregon is trying to navigate through. Schwabe handled the first transaction under that new regulation in the past year. It requires health care entities to obtain approval from the Oregon Health Authority for material change transactions. The goal is increased access and lower consumer costs. The fact that it passed in 2021 and it took a while for any entitles to go through a transaction under that regulation indicates people are approaching it cautiously.

What did you find out about people deferring care? With the staffing shortages, one of the adverse impacts was deferred care. Coming out of the pandemic, there’s been an improvement. The demand is pretty steady for elective surgeries. The fact hospitals have not been able to do those surgeries, that’s an important revenue stream for them. The good news is the industry was nimble in dealing with the crisis and what was most positive is that across the board, patients, employees and C-suite health care industry leaders were optimistic about the state of health care in the Northwest, and more specifically in Oregon, in the coming year.

This article was republished with permission from the Portland Business Journal.

This article summarizes aspects of the law and does not constitute legal advice. For legal advice for your situation, you should contact an attorney.

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