Adding services balances government shortfalls
In my role as the chief financial officer of a small community hospital in central Mississippi, I’m required to take a lot of leaps of faith when making decisions, simply because those decisions at times involve intangibles that extend far beyond financial data. Over the past eight years, one certainty of the ever-changing landscape of healthcare is this: If your decisions are guided by what is best for patients over the long term, it is likely the outcome will be beneficial to your organization.
At 58-bed Magee (Miss.) General Hospital, we’ve continued to remain profitable during a time when many hospitals are closing their doors. We’ve outperformed many hospitals with similar patient demographics by adopting standards relating to patient safety, fiscal accountability, growth and ethics. Initiating these standards has not been without challenges.
At the top of the list, I would place the recent cutbacks by the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Receiving reimbursement for the services that we provide to our patients is certainly a major challenge for us, as it is for most hospitals in the nation. Medicare and Medicaid, as well as private insurance, are very important sources of revenue for us. When reimbursement falls short of the cost of care, it impacts many aspects of our operations. We continue to operate in a proactive mode by planning for future cuts and reacting quickly to the current cutbacks at a time when cost of supplies and resources continues to increase.
We’ve counteracted the cuts by implementing cost-savings measures in all areas. The overall savings from these measures will, we hope, be sufficient to allow us to provide basic services to patients while updating our facility to better accommodate physicians. In 2009, we were forced to reduce employees’ hours for eight months. This measure, which was accepted by employees as a way to ultimately protect their jobs, proved to be a profitable move in numerous ways. It resulted in a sizable cost savings and allowed us to avoid layoffs while continuing to provide major patient services.
Another challenge has been in the area of uncompensated care—another cost that has increased significantly at most U.S. hospitals as the economy has taken a downward spiral. A major source of assistance in the area of indigent care has been our charitable foundation, Health Trust. In only its fifth year of operation, the foundation has raised more than $3 million and helps provide funds for indigent medical care as well as state-of-the-art equipment and technology the hospital might ordinarily go without.
A major source of additional revenue is brought in through our in-house medical specialty clinic, staffed on a rotating basis by physicians representing more than 20 specialty areas in inpatient and outpatient services, including general surgery, ophthalmology, cardiology, urology, gynecology and neurosurgery. These specialty services eliminate the need for patients to travel to one of Mississippi’s metropolitan healthcare facilities for the care they need.
To further enhance these services, two years ago the hospital purchased one of the most technologically advanced MRI systems and opened a sleep center now fully accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Our goal for the past several years has been to create a campus on which we offer family medical clinics, rehabilitation, imaging and diagnostic capabilities, an area for outpatient medical services and same-day surgery; and professional inpatient care. By offering all the conveniences of “one-stop” medical care in an area that is 50 miles from the nearest large city, we have realized a significant increase in our patient base and revenue.
As we enter a new decade, we realize that no matter how well you do something or how successful a program has been, for a slightly larger investment, you can usually do it better. How do we grow and then allocate our resources among the many innovative medical technologies and services continually being introduced in the healthcare field? That is the new challenge that we will seek to conquer in 2010. <<
Melissa Bruntlett is chief financial officer of Magee (Miss.) General Hospital.