In Depth: A Conversation with Valleywise Health
InDepth is a new Arizona Physician section in both its print and digital formats highlighting medical practices/hospitals/clinics across Arizona.
Arizona Physician sat down with Michael White, MD, Executive Vice President, and Chief Clinical Officer of Valleywise Health, to discuss the public hospital system and its role in graduate medical education.
ARIZONA PHYSICIAN: What makes Valleywise Health stand out from other hospitals in Arizona?
DR. MICHAEL WHITE: As the state’s only public teaching hospital and safety net system of care, Valleywise Health is truly the foundation for a healthy Maricopa County. Since Valleywise Health first began serving the community in 1877, we have continually reinvented ourselves to meet Maricopa County’s evolving medical needs.
You may know Valleywise Health as one of the nation’s best and busiest burn centers. But there’s another side to us. The side that cares for those challenged by severe mental illness through three behavioral health facilities and innovative mental health programs.
We also provide primary and specialty care through 12 Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) throughout Maricopa County.
Valleywise Health by the Numbers:
Founded in 1877
400 Physicians & Advanced Practice Clinicians
1 Medical Center
1 Emergency Facility
2 Comprehensive Health Centers
9 Community Health Centers
3 Behavioral Health Centers
ARIZONA PHYSICIAN: Please describe funding sources and the recent proposition approved by voters.
DR. MICHAEL WHITE (Pictured above): As a safety net hospital system, Valleywise Health relies on public support and a range of state and federal programs, including AHCCCS, Arizona’s Medicaid program.
In 2020, more than 64 percent of voters in Maricopa County approved a proposition to renew the annual property owner tax assessment that supplements our operational budget. The annual assessment levy equals about 12% of our revenues.
In 2014, Maricopa County voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 480, which really set the stage for the transformation of our health care system. That measure stemmed from a 15-member citizens’ bond committee, which recommended a $935 million bond measure to fund multiple construction and renovation projects.
ARIZONA PHYSICIAN: Valleywise has grown over the past ten years. Where and why?
DR. MICHAEL WHITE: The approval for Proposition 480 allowed us to begin a “Care Reimagined” process, which included a comprehensive demographic study to identify the medical and behavioral health needs of Maricopa County.
The result is an expansion of our Community Health Centers:
South Phoenix/Laveen, opened August 2020
South Central (includes resident training), opened September 2020
North Phoenix, opened November 2020
Peoria, opened January 2021
West Maryvale, opened November 2021
Mesa, opened January 2022
The opportunity to buy the Maryvale Hospital allowed us to quickly upgrade and open a 192-bed inpatient behavioral health hospital, filling a long-standing critical need within the community. In addition, the Emergency Department was updated and reopened to the entire community.
The most visible project remains construction of a new Valleywise Health Medical Center. Once completed in October, the 10-story, 673,000-square-foot tower will include 233 private patient rooms, a dedicated floor for the Arizona Burn Center, 10 operating rooms, two interventional radiology areas, two catheterization labs, a dedicated procedural floor and rooftop and ground-level helipads.
ARIZONA PHYSICIAN: How many and what types of health professionals are working at Valleywise today?
DR. MICHAEL WHITE: Valleywise Health has about 4,000 employees and our District Medical Group partners provide about 400 physicians and advanced practice clinicians across a wide range of specialties. We have 13 Graduate Medical Education programs ranging from emergency medicine, all primary care specialties, to psychiatry in partnership with the Creighton University Arizona Health Education Alliance. Additionally, we have fellowship programs in child psychiatry, gastroenterology and others. We train all the health professions that require certification from radiation technology to respiratory therapy to nurses and physicians.
ARIZONA PHYSICIAN: Which other organizations are in the health education alliance and what role does Valleywise play?
DR. MICHAEL WHITE: Valleywise Health is a core member of the Alliance, which includes Creighton University, Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center and District Medical Group. We’re one of the founding members who came together to increase the number of physicians who not only train in Arizona but hopefully will remain here to serve our communities. When we created the Alliance, the goal was to bring additional learners using physician training first but then to increase that halo to cover all health care professionals so we can meet the demands of a rapidly growing population. It’s an exciting opportunity to play a major role in the training of new generations of physicians and other health care professionals.
ARIZONA PHYSICIAN: What types of research can residents conduct through Valleywise?
DR. MICHAEL WHITE: We have a number of research mentors in all the of the specialties. Much of research we do is focused on quality and patient safety as well as improvement. With our focus on training and education, our learners are continually asking important questions on how we can better care for our patients and utilizing the data we have to improve outcomes. We also are participating in multi-center clinical trials which include pharmaceutical and device research.
ARIZONA PHYSICIAN: Which reasons do residents offer for why they chose Valleywise to train?
DR. MICHAEL WHITE: Everyone who trains at Valleywise Health through the Creighton University Arizona Health Alliance is really drawn to our mission. We’re here to provide exceptional care to an underserved patient population, and our residents understand and recognize they have an immense opportunity to give back with their unique skills while they further hone those skills.
ARIZONA PHYSICIAN: Which reasons do residents offer for why they chose not to train at Valleywise?
DR. MICHAEL WHITE: Most individuals, when they choose a residency training program, will want to continue their careers in that geographical area. They want to be closer to home, to parents, to their support systems. That’s usually the chief reason why people decide not to do their training with us.
ARIZONA PHYSICIAN: What knowledge, skills, or abilities does your team seek in residents?
DR. MICHAEL WHITE: We seek residents who are dedicated to our unique patient population and want to further their careers with lifelong learning. Medicine is a calling, and we are interested in providing individuals the opportunity to grow their skills through improving their knowledge while focused on outcomes of our patients. Additionally, we want to see individuals that are able to build teams, collaborate with their peers and form relationships with their patients.
ARIZONA PHYSICIAN: Do you get any feedback from employers about the quality of residents completing the program?
DR. MICHAEL WHITE: As part of a residency training program, one of your obligations is to survey graduates as well as their employers in the first year after graduation. The responses are largely positive. The way I evaluate this is how many residents don’t have an opportunity when they graduate from their programs. Everyone who leaves here knows where they’re going next. We don’t have anybody that is floating—people get to go largely where they would like to go to either practice or further their training.
ARIZONA PHYSICIAN: In which areas are improvements needed?
DR. MICHAEL WHITE: We always look for opportunities to continue to increase our patients base so we continue to have an increased number of opportunities for our residents. Any patient contact can be a valuable learning experience.
ARIZONA PHYSICIAN: Does Valleywise support any increases in funding or legislative changes needed for residency programs in Arizona?
DR. MICHAEL WHITE: We have always supported the expansion of Graduate Medical Education programs.
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