Vicki Fowlkes, retiring board member of the Fulton County Hospital, told the Fulton County Quorum Court that the hospital is in good shape, despite the struggling economy.
"I think the hospital is in better shape than it's been in years. We've been through some ups and downs, we've got some problems, but you've got a board that cares," Fowlkes said during the regular meeting of the court May 11.
Fowlkes, who has served on the hospital board since 2002, will retire from her position on June 30.
"In 2001, the hospital had $4.3 million in operating revenue and $4.7 in operating expenses -- a loss of $413,000," Fowlkes said. "This year, our projected revenue is $10.6 million, putting the hospital in the black by $317,000 cash flow whys.
"We owe a lot of money; we're bringing in a lot of money. It takes a lot of money to have a state-of-the-art facility," she said.
Fulton County Hospital is the second largest employer in Fulton County with North Arkansas Electric being the largest.
"In 2003, the hospital had 103 full-time equivalent employees," she said. "In 2009, the hospital employs 133 full-time equivalent employees based on a 40 hour week. We actually employ more people than that because not all employees are full time. The hospital's payroll and benefits are $12,572 a day. That's a huge impressive amount that flows into this county from FCH."
Fowlkes said in 2004, things looked pretty bleak for the future of the hospital.
"In 2004, Hughes, Welch and Milligan (CPAs) basically said, 'Find the key, if there is a key, because you've got to close the doors.' They told us that the only way to keep the facility open was if we got very proactive and very progressive," Fowlkes said.
The board came to the quorum court, according to Fowlkes, and asked them to support a one-half of one percent sales tax to bring revenue into the hospital. The revenue from the tax, "helped us to have a base to keep the doors open," Fowlkes said. "It helped us replace some equipment that was totally obsolete and not effective at all, do a few things to the hospital and start a planning stage for the new ER facility."
The hospital also obtained the status of a critical access hospital which allowed services to be based on actual cost.
Fowlkes said that hospitals are main stays of the economy but they are not recession proof.
"We have collection problems today," she said. "We'll continue to have them. Every hospital in the United States has collection problems."
To combat this problem, Fowlkes said the hospital has taken a proactive approach in the admissions department, asking for a down payment on the co-pay and even giving a 10 percent discount when it is paid within 48 hours.
"This has been very successful for us," she said.
The downside, according to Fowlkes, is that there will always be a base of people who will not pay their bill.
"If you (the hospital) are going to take federal money, you cannot turn people away if they say they need care," she said. "And, if they do not have the money to pay, you cannot make them pay. That's a problem and will always be a problem."
Bad debt based on the percentage of revenue is at 9.85 percent. Charity care based on the same percentage of revenue is at 0.95 percent or roughly $111,300.
Fowlkes said a big change has been made in the accounts receivables area.
"We've dropped our days out on a trial balance from 154 days down to 50 days and sometimes even below 50 days," she said. "If you can collect your money within 50 days that is about industry standard in the hospital business and we've gotten it as low as 30 days. They (the accounts receivables department) have been working very hard to get our money in."
"We are 30 days out on accounts payable," Fowlkes said. "We're basically up-to-date. In the health care industry, if you can pay within 45 to 60 days, you're doing well."
One of the biggest accomplishments for the hospital has been the reduction of their line of credit to $1.
"We've taken the sales tax money which the court released to us and kept two payments back to meet our bond issue and used the rest to pay down the line of credit," she said.
"Today, the hospital has $8.8 million in assets and $6.8 million in liabilities," Fowlkes said. "In 2004, with the old facility, we had a negative $454,000 in liabilities over assets. We've come a tremendously long way with the hospital."
Fowlkes gives the credit for the growth of the hospital to good leadership, a productive board and employees who have put in a lot of time and energy to make the hospital what it is today.
"We need to take care of healthcare in this county. We need to keep our facility open," she said.
A state-of-the-art facility not only attracts new physicians and advanced nurse practitioners, she said, but people who are looking to move to the area.
"There are two questions that most people ask about an area: 'What kind of health care is available and what kind of educational opportunities are available?' We have both of these in this area."
"The hospital needs progressive people on the board. It needs big thinkers," she said. "We need people who are not afraid to get in the trenches and fight for the people in the county, for what they believe is right."
Fulton County Judge Charles Willett, along with the quorum court members, thanked Fowlkes for her service on the board the past seven years.
The quorum court is responsible for appointing members to the hospital board. Judge Willett said three Fulton County residents, Joe Johnson of Mammoth Spring, Bill Pace of Mammoth Spring and Sherrie Keylon of the Fryatt community have all expressed an interest in serving on the hospital board.
After a short discussion among the quorum court members, Willett announced the appointment would be tabled until June and asked Johnson, Pace and Keylon to address the court at the June meeting about their goals for the hospital. After hearing from each candidate, the court will appoint one of them to fill Fowlkes position on the hospital board.
In other business, the court approved setting up a separate bank account for monies related to ice storm damage.
Judge Willett said that the county should be receiving a check from FEMA in the amount of $1 million, $14 thousand in the next few weeks along with $100,000 from CAT B emergency funds, both of which are related to the ice storm recovery.