But one number really caught the eye of Ozarks Medical Center CEO David Zechman.
"When you look at total expenses, an 11.2 percent improvement over last year at this time -- that is amazing," Zechman told the hospital board of governors during their April 23 meeting. "You've obviously stepped up to the plate and said, 'we've really got to cut expenses.' An 11 percent improvement over last year -- that is a million dollar change. You should feel really good about that."
|Board president Bill Pace agreed that curtailing expenses has helped ease the hospital's financial crunch.|
Zechman added work to turn the hospital around "is not done," but the outlook is much different from the one the board saw last fall.
Facing a huge debt with little cash on hand and no borrowing power, Dixon Hughes' final audit report on the 2011 fiscal year was going to question how much longer the hospital could survive.
"The going concern opinion (in the audit) will simply say that we're not sure that this hospital can be sustained in business for the next 12 months," Dixon Hughes' Tommy Barnhart bluntly told the board in September.
Six months later, the finished report, delayed as the hospital sold its home health license to pay bills and hired OMC to manage the hospital, does not contain that damaging "going concern" opinion.
The report is "overall favorable," interim administrator Kim Thompson told the board, as she went over recommendations the accounting group made -- including improving controls to prevent employee misuse of hospital funds and improving the facility's inventory system.
During the meeting, the board heard that efforts to hire a permanent administrator are gaining steam.
"We have three candidates coming in over the next three weeks," Thompson said. "They are going to spend a half-day at OMC, and a full day at Fulton County (Hospital). They are going to interview with many people. We are going to wear them out," Thompson laughed.
The first candidate was at the hospital on Thursday, April 26, and the board and physicians were among those scheduled to question the first job-seeker.
Thompson discussed with the board one approach to cutting the cost of implementing a required electronic medical record system -- teaming up with OMC.
OMC has already spent nearly $3 million dollars to install back-up systems, to insure that vital records are not lost if the electronic record system crashes.
Thompson has asked the software provider OMC is using, Medi-Tech, to give an estimate as to what an electronic system will cost FCH.
"If they (OMC) have done all this work, and use the same modules we use here, Ozark Medical Center could do some of the training (at FCH), instead of paying Medi-Tech to do it, as well as housing the data (storage backup) at OMC," Thompson said.
Thompson has also asked for an update from Custom Software Systems, a provider who has already given a quote to FCH.
A third option Thompson mentioned was affiliating with a company that provides an off-site server. One company she has heard of helps provide electronic medical records service for 26 rural critical access hospitals.
Past rough estimates of the cost of an electronic medical records system have been put at $400,000 to $1 million dollars.
CEO Zechman expressed optimism Fulton County's system can be put together for less. If the hospital gets started and meets certain deadlines as it phases a system in, the federal government will refund some of the costs.
The board was told the biggest challenge is choosing the right company to provide the system. According to Thompson, OMC's I-T specialist emphasizes that providers must meet federal standards, and it would be a costly mistake to choose a company that starts out good, but fails to deliver an acceptable product at the end.
As the meeting ended, Thompson mentioned that nine FCH employees who recently attended a leadership conference at OMC came back enthused -- willing to try new approaches that will help them do their jobs better, and help the hospital save money.
One change this year is, each department will prepare its own budget for the next fiscal year, instead of being handed a budget and told to follow it. According to Thompson, the change should help insure department heads get the essentials they need to operate, and make them more aware of the importance of reducing expenses and sticking to their budget during the year.
While OMC has been running advertisements about the services it offers at the Fulton County Hospital, it will try a change that department heads have suggested -- advertisements which focus on specific departments and their services.
Thompson said she believed advertisements emphasizing that the emergency room is open and doctor-staffed 24 hours a day is responsible for improved e-r usage. Thompson mentioned that the hospital has received good comments on several e-r physicians, and many compliments on the hospital's cardiac rehab program.
The board gave approval for signage to be added to hospital signs showing that the hospital is affiliated with OMC.
Board member Danny Perryman mentioned his support for OMC's management -- which just hit the six month mark.
"I think the partnership looks great so far," Perryman said. "It has been a partnership -- not a dictatorship."
Other board members agreed the partnership is working to stabilize and improve the hospital.