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New management believes Fulton County Hospital is "moving in the right direction"

Monday, March 12, 2012

Acting administrator Kim Thompson told a March 1 "State of the Hospital" public meeting that Fulton County Hospital finances have improved under Ozarks Medical Center management -- and "Senior Management at OMC has a goal...that the next fiscal year will be a profitable year (for FCH)." Photo by Richard Irby [Order this photo]
Richard Irby

Staff Writer

At a recent board meeting and a community meeting, officials of the Ozarks Medical Center discussed progress the Fulton County Hospital has made since it took over management of the hospital four months ago, and the outlook for the future.

State of the Hospital

On March 1, Fulton County Hospital held a public meeting to discuss the "State of the Hospital." It was the first of a series of public meetings to be held every Thursday night in March and April, at 5:30 p.m., to discuss hospital services and topics to help people improve their health.

OMC executive Kim Thompson, who is serving as acting administrator, began the "State of the Hospital" meeting by saying progress has already been made to reduce years of deficits and growing debt.

"We've only been here since late October, so we're very pleased with the turnaround we have seen so far, and we expect that to continue," Thompson told the small crowd.

Thompson noted that, for the past four months, the hospital has had a positive cash flow, "a very minor margin, but a positive is a positive."

Thompson surprised some when she later added, "We do have a goal. Senior management at OMC has a goal that the next fiscal year (at FHC) will be a profitable year. The end of the fiscal year, which will be June 30, will be a negative. But we're hoping, in the six month period after that, there will be a profit at the end of 2012."

During the meeting, Thompson emphasized that, besides emergency and in-patient care, the hospital offers many services that local residents should be taking advantage of, and their support can help the hospital continue to progress.

"As your doctor asks you to go get lab work or have an ultrasound or C-T Scan, think about the fact those can be done right here -- probably in a shorter time frame without you having to travel, without affecting your gas budget," Thompson said. "Labs, x-rays, rehab, cardio-rehab, all these are outpatient services...that can be done right here."

February Board Meeting

At the Monday, Feb. 27 meeting of the Hospital Board of Governors, Thompson told members the patient census and revenue were down in January, yet the Fulton County Hospital's financial picture continued to improve.
Thompson explained that January expenses were 24 percent under budget, thanks, in part, to a 12 percent reduction in salaries and wages. Part of the savings came from reducing the number of employees on duty on days there were fewer patients to care for.

"We're also seeing some of the (discount) purchasing contracts kick in," Thompson said. "Our supply costs are down."

The January operating loss was $78,993, compared to an expected budgeted loss of $157,558.

"We are making progress. I'm very exited about the direction of the organization," Thompson told the board. "I think we're making a lot of improvements."

Thompson said the hospital owed about $464,000 in account payables, a slight decline for the second month in a row.

Thompson praised administrative assistant Jennifer Perryman and finance supervisor Denice Innis for "keeping our vendors at bay for a little longer." Thompson said the two had worked to make sure needed supplies were still arriving, while assuring vendors the sale of the hospital's home health license will be final in mid-March, and "with the monies we receive, we can get current (on back bills)."

Thompson said the 60 day period, in which the $1.7 million in revenue has to be held in escrow, will end on March 19. On that day, outstanding bills will be paid, and Thompson promised "a celebration" was planned.

Thompson noted January was the first month the hospital began paying a $10,000 a month management fee to the Ozarks Medical Center. Thompson added OMC had spent about $30,000 worth of hours and travel expenses since it took over FCH management in October. Much of that expense involved OMC department heads coming to the hospital to review operations, and discuss OMC's way of doing things with the FCH staff. The figure does not include the salaries and travel of top management officials, including Thompson, who have worked on local hospital management.

During the meeting, it was revealed that OMC has begun work to hire a full time administrator for the hospital, and has received resumes from a number of applicants.

"I have been very, very pleased with the people who have responded to the ad," OMC President and CEO David Zechman said. "There are some really qualified folks that have responded."

According to Zechman, he and Thompson will screen applicants by telephone and narrow down the field to two or three candidates, which OMC and the Fulton County Hospital Board will interview to make a hire.

"You're probably looking at May or June to get someone in the (administrator's) seat," Zechman said.

In new business, the board approved a managed care contract with a private company. The company will review the hospital's pricing to insure prices are in line and competitive with other area hospitals, and it will audit the hospital's billing to make sure bills are correct and revenue is not being lost through incorrect billing.

Most importantly, "They will also be looking at the managed care contracts we have with insurance companies, and will be doing any re-negotiation that is needed," Thompson explained.

Board member Jerry Blevins indicated that he was voting on the 18 month contract "real reluctantly."

"I know these are dollars going out, but I really think this is going to be a big return (on money spent)," Thompson replied. "This was the large item our consultant told us to look at, as far as dollars coming back in, to turn things around."

Zechman added some of the hospital's contracts, which set reimbursement levels from private insurance companies, have not been renegotiated for many years, and some of the contracts cannot even be located.

Consultants have suggested the hospital may be able to increase revenue by $500,000 a year by updating the contracts to reimbursement levels most hospitals receive.

"Somebody that does this all the time, that can do it right away, quickly, is what the goal is to do this,' Zechman said.

Chief of Staff, Dr. Rebecca Phillips, said Dr. Christopher Cochran, an OMC physician, is going to start coming to the hospital on Fridays to do colonoscopies and upper G-I scoping. Cochran is a native of Mammoth Spring. According to Phillips, "Dr. Cochran really wants to care for patients, and is willing to come, when needed, for emergencies. He's a hometown, north Arkansas guy so we appreciate that from him."

Cochran is taking over the scoping duties because Dr. Jeff Summerhill, who is also an emergency room physician, is leaving the hospital this month.

Phillips said Dr. Dennis Moore, who works for the UAMS Area Health Education Centers, recently attended a staff meeting to offer UAMS services to the hospital.

According to Phillips, UAMS is concerned about critical access hospitals, especially in north central Arkansas which has the highest number of uninsured adults in the state, and the lowest number of physicians per patient.

Dr. Moore suggested that UAMS specialists could examine patients and consult with local doctors through video conferences, and provide education services through video or online hookups.

Phillips said, if health care reform remains in effect, in 2014 large numbers of uninsured adults will gain access to the Medicaid program. While that will increase access to health care, the access will be threatened by a lack of doctors and nurse practitioners in our area to provide care.

Phillips called Moore's visit a preliminary meeting, and future discussions could lead to UAMS services at FCH.

OMC CEO Zechman said UAMS could be of particular help when patients need "high end referrals" for conditions OMC and other larger hospitals do not offer, including endocrinology, dermatology and organ transplants.

The next regular meeting of the hospital board is scheduled for March 26 at 6 p.m. in the hospital conference room. The public is invited to attend.

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