November 12, 2018

WBRMC not planning to suspend additional services

Still dealing with fewer patients and uncollectible debt

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WEST BRANCH — Since the closing of the obstetrics unit at West Branch Regional Medical Center July 1, many in the community have been asking questions about other cuts that may be made in the future at the hospital.

WBRMC Director of Communications Sally Ann Whitener said Monday that, at this time, there are no plans to cut any specific services.

“There are no plans at this time to discontinue a specific service,” Whitener said. “However, the board continues its evaluation of all hospital services to determine which ones may be beneficial from additional investments and which ones may no longer be needed or viable.”

Whitener said WBRMC continues to fight the fact that patient volumes are continuing to decrease, while bad debt — money owed to the hospital for services rendered, but deemed uncollectible — is increasing.

“According to a survey of hospitals conducted by the American Hospital Association, patients continue to delay or forego care as family budgets remain tight, with 70 percent of hospitals reporting fewer patient visits and elective procedures,” she said. “Exacerbating this trend, nearly nine in 10 hospitals reported an increase in care for which the hospital received no payment at all.”

Whitener said that WBRMC’s outpatient volumes are down 6 percent compared to last fiscal year, and its inpatient volumes are down 7.4 percent.

“WBRMC’s bad debt is up 43 percent in the first five months of this fiscal year,” Whitener said, compared to last fiscal year. “In August alone, the medical center lost $242,000 in bad debt — the largest loss in one month to bad debt in medical center history.”

“In August, our gross revenue was $5.4 million,” Whitener said. “Once you deduct all the expense categories, including bad debt, our overall loss was $173,000.”

Whitener said that each annual budget includes a certain amount of bad debt. For the 2010-11 fiscal year, she said, WBRMC budgeted for around $1.9 million as its expected loss.

“If we continue on this current track, however, we must brace for a loss of more like $2.4 million in bad debt,” she said. “Unfortunately, in the past four years, our bad debt has increased by around 87 percent.”

Whitener reiterated that hospitals all over the country are dealing with the same problems.

“The trend of increasing bad debt can be tied to the poor economy and the increasing number of individuals out of work and without insurance,” she said. “Typically those without insurance postpone care until they are very ill, requiring more health care services in the more expensive setting — the emergency department. Volumes trending downward can be tied to those that are underinsured, or insured with deductibles they cannot pay, postponing elective procedures.”

Whitener said that WBRMC has been working with managers in an attempt to staff departments based on actual patient volumes.

“This is quite a challenge in a 24/7 operation with unpredictable spikes and wanes in volumes,” she said. “At this time, there is no plan to permanently reduce staff, but that may become necessary should volumes not rebound.”

Another question that has been circulating in the community is whether WBRMC will look to consolidate with another hospital system. Whitener said that while there are no plans at this time, the hospital would be keeping its options open.

“West Branch Regional Medical Center is an independent, publicly owned acute care facility — one of the last of its kind in the state and in the nation,” Whitener said.

She said there has been a tremendous amount of consolidation in the industry recently.

“In recent years, we’ve seen Standish Hospital become part of Ascension Health of St. Louis, Mo.,” Whitener said. “Grayling and Cadillac hospitals, while owned by Trinity, became part of the Munson Healthcare System, and just last week, Central Michigan Community Hospital announced it would be joining forces with McLaren Heath Care.”

Whitener said there are advantages for smaller hospitals to join with multi-hospital systems, including access to a larger physician base, access to highly rated capital financing, advanced medical research and the ability to provide a broader range of services at a local level. She said WBRMC’s board has been aggressive in pursing partnerships with other health systems on a service-by-service basis, known as product-line affiliations.

“Product-line affiliations allow the medical center to grow and flourish while gaining the strength of larger facilities and systems without being absorbed by them,” Whitener said. “Perhaps the most notable product-line affiliation is the medical center’s partnership with St. Mary’s of Michigan for local cancer care.”

Whitener said that WBRMC is in a strong position for the future.

“With its new facility, state-of-the-art equipment, broad range of services and central location, it is a very desirable affiliation partner,” she said. “While at the present time it is not pursuing an overall affiliation, it continues to research all forms of affiliations and/or other arrangements with multi-hospital systems. The board has been involved in several educational sessions with various experts on the subject, and feels adequately prepared should the right opportunity present itself.”

During the West Branch City Council’s regular meeting last week, West Branch Mayor Todd Thompson addressed one of the hospital board members, saying that he had heard that WBRMC Chief Executive Officer Douglas Pattullo would be retiring at the end of this year. Whitener said the board has made no announcement at this time.

“Doug Pattullo’s five-year contract with the medical center expires May 8, 2011,” Whitener said. “The board has made no announcement as to whether or not the terms of his contract will change.”

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