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Community profile: Wausau, WI

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WHEN THE FIRST WHITE SETTLERS CAME to Wausau in 1839, they looked with delight upon the towering pine forests that covered the region. North central Wisconsin was indeed the land of opportunity for anyone able to cut down a tree.

A century and a half later, the virgin forests are but a paragraph in the history of Wausau’s development. Managed forests now furnish the resources for the region’s varied wood-products industries, refuge for wildlife, and recreational opportunities for outdoor lovers.

Once a land of lumber camps and sawmill towns, the Wausau area has evolved into a broad-based economy that holds the promise of steady growth. An excellent education system supplies a well-trained work force and opportunities for continuing education in most professions, and the robust Wisconsin climate ensures four distinct seasons for enjoying the natural beauty of the region’s waterways and woodlands.

Medicine in transition

The medical community also is a hallmark of Wausau’s appeal. Excellent facilities, a good mix of primary-care and sub-specialty physicians, and a collegiality between practicing groups have provided quality, economical medical care. But like the Northwoods forests, northern Wisconsin physicians are coming under managers’ hands. Business mergers, buy-outs, and alliances are all part of Wausau’s medical landscape as physicians anticipate a growing demand for ever-more-cost-efficient health care in the 21st century.

“Wausau is an emerging managedcare market,” says Charles L. Shabino, MD, a pediatric intensivist who has put away his stethoscope to serve as president and chief medical officer of Wausau Regional Healthcare, Inc., and also chief medical officer for its parent company Community Health Care, Inc.

“What you’re seeing here is consolidation in the medical community. What’s driving it is a concern on the doctors’ part to have a voice in how medical care will be delivered in the future,” says Shabino. Unlike other areas of the United States where managed care is firmly in place, often with nonmedical administrators calling the shots, Shabino says in Wausau the groundwork is being laid by doctors. “There’s much stronger physician participation here than in other parts of the country.

“What’s happening in Wausau is the development of at least two strong delivery systems,” Shabino says. “You have Marshfield Clinic coming in, which is based on a multi-site delivery system, and you have Community Health Care.”

Until recently, Wausau was a community of independent single-specialty and multi-specialty physician groups with Wausau Hospital as their common tertiary care facility. At the beginning of the decade, the hospital created a number of subsidiaries to provide what Shabino calls “a full continuum of care,” under the parent company banner Community Health Care, Inc.

Community Health Care’s clinic subsidiary, Wausau Regional Healthcare, made its first two clinic group acquisitions in 1991 and has since added 10 more. It now has a total of 50 physicians working in 18 clinics and medical practices in north central Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Wausau Regional Healthcare has focused on the delivery of primary care and that will continue, Shabino says. “Based on the premise that, in the future of medicine, the focal point of care will be the patient’s encounter with the primary-care physician, this should be a primary-care physician organization, as opposed to one providing multi-specialty services.”

That doesn’t eliminate the need for specialists in Wausau, Shabino says. “Wausau Regional has all kinds of relationships with specialists in the community. It’s not a question of being able to provide specialists for patients, but rather than include them in the organization, we’ve chosen to encourage strong provider networks.”


Pam Prescott

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