Denver Health Leaders Honored at National Conference Exploring New Strategies to Improve Emergency Medicine

Denver Health leaders were among those honored by Boston Medical Center at an inaugural event that brought together emergency department teams from around the country to create a blueprint to fix the nation’s ailing emergency medicine system


June 14, 2023

Denver – Three leaders from Denver Health were selected to participate in the first Leaders of Essential Emergency Departments Conference hosted by Boston Medical Center’s (BMC), where they helped to develop a blueprint for how to fix the nation’s ailing emergency medical system.

The local participants include: Emergency Department Director of Service Stephen Wolf, MD, Director of Emergency Nursing Lisa Vogel, RN and Emergency Medicine Director of Business and Finance Kenneth Taylor.

“We were honored to invite the Denver Health team to be our guest at this inaugural event because of the unwavering commitment they demonstrate on the job every day and their determination to overcome the odds to ensure that every patient is provided the highest quality care,” explained Christian Arbelaez, MD, MPH, the Chief of Emergency Medicine at BMC and Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine. “The perspectives and experiences these leaders brought to the conversation during our two-day event were truly invaluable,” he added.

The Denver Health team was part of a cadre of leaders from 15 emergency departments around the country who serve the most vulnerable populations. The participants broke into working groups to identify common problems they all face on the job, and to determine how best to address these issues moving forward.

“One of the most striking outcomes from the conference discussions was the recognition that regardless of their size, geographic location, and the populations they serve, emergency departments across the country all face the same challenges, including: staff shortages and space constraints, shrinking budgets, increasing behavioral health problems, and violence in the workplace,” Arbelaez said.

Participants discussed how problems seem to be worsening over the past few years, prompted by COVID-19, untreated behavioral health issues, a shortage of primary care physicians, staff burn-out, and keeping patients in the emergency department hallway while waiting for a bed in a hospital unit, thus magnifying the stress that emergency department personnel face regularly.

The groups identified several key themes they want to address moving forward, including: financing challenges, staffing issues, capacity and access to care,

Participants also agreed on several methods they want to use to begin tackling these themes, including: gaining better support and resources from health system boards and leadership, educating legislators about the needs for more supportive policies, and working with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to revise the reimbursement system to provide better incentives and disincentives to create healthier conditions.

The emergency department leaders also heard from invited speakers, who helped connect the participants experiences to the broader challenges faced in the nation’s health system. They included: Alastair Bell, MD, MBA, CEO of BMC Health System; Bruce Siegel, MD, MPH, President & CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals; John McDonough, DrPH, Professor of Health Policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Purva Rawal, PhD, Chief Strategy Officer at the CMS Innovation Center; Senator Edward J. Markey, JD, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; and Vikas Saini, MD, President of the Lown Institute.

Following the completion of the conference, participants agreed to continue meeting as a whole team via zoom, as well as in smaller work groups. They tentatively decided to rename their group Strengthening Essential Emergency Departments (SEED).

The full roster of hospitals represented at the conference included: Boston Medical Center; Denver Health Medical Center; Grady Memorial Hospital; Ben Taub General Hospital; Hennepin Healthcare; Jackson Memorial Hospital; MetroHealth Medical Center; Jacobi Medical Center; Bellevue; Parkland Hospital; University of Alabama Birmingham Hospital; Zuckerberg San Francisco General; University of New Mexico Health; UMass Memorial Medical Center; and University of Washington Medical Center.

All of the conference costs, including participants’ travel and lodging expenses, were paid for by a generous gift from an anonymous donor to BMC, shining the spotlight on the important challenges facing emergency medicine today, as well as the great potential for change.

“Emergency departments are the frontline for many of the most urgent issues facing healthcare and society. With many health systems straining under the long-term impacts from the global COVID-19 pandemic, developing and implementing a plan for improving emergency medicine, and particularly for strengthening emergency departments that serve the most vulnerable populations, is essential for ensuring the health of our communities, Arbelaez said.

Arbelaez stressed that this conference is one important way that BMC is working to extend its reach beyond the emergency department walls and is creating a network of leaders to help solve problems threatening the future of emergency medicine.