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Hospital board hopes billing problems are solved

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tony Thompson, the new administrator at the Fulton County Hospital, officially began his job on Monday, July 9. Thompson worked for years as the Associate Administrator of the White River Medical Center in Batesville. Interim administrator Kim Thompson will remain at the hospital through July 13 to help Thompson get started.

Thompson attended his first meeting of the Fulton County Hospital Board of Governors on Monday, June 25, learning the hospital's financial situation has stabilized but challenges remain.

"OMC is anxious to get someone in place, so you have a permanent figure here to move forward and make changes," Kim Thompson said, in recognizinging Thompson, at the meeting. "Tony has a lot of experience and contacts, so I really think he is going to be an excellent choice for the position."

Thompson did not say much, prefering to watch the proceeding. "We'll have plenty of time for chit chats later on," he told the board.

In her financial report, Thompson said May out-patient and emergency room counts were up, and, at $1,478,000, May's gross revenue total was one of the highest of the year.

The hospital showed a loss for the month of $45,899 -- primarily because it took a charity write off for services provided in past months for patients with the inability to pay.

Thompson noted the emergency room had 538 patients in May. "You want those volumes to increase," Thompson said, "because that (E-R) is the front door of the hospital. That is where many of our in-patients come from. The higher that is, the higher the percentage of admissions."

Thompson said the swing bed unit census was slightly down in May, and the hospital is focusing ways to keep it full, since it is an important source of income.

Board President Bill Pace asked, "With the Eaglecrest Nursing Home in Highland opening up a new rehab wing, do you think that will affect us?"

"A lot of our patients are not from that area, but I do think it will affect us, when they open 24 new beds (for rehabilitation services)," Thompson replied.

Thompson said Eaglecrest, which hosted a community open house on June 28, is heavily marketing its new wing. Fulton County Hospital is also planning to launch ads focusing on its swing bed services. Thompson said rehabilitation services in a hospital have an advantage over a nursing home, in that blood work or other medical services are available when needed at the hospital.

Thompson expressed hope that problems with a new billing system for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement have been resolved. The hospital's software for the new "5010" billing system is now working properly, and the company the hospital uses to process its claims has upgraded its system. With both working, delays in receiving prompt reimbursement should be over.

According to Thompson, some payments due the hospital still have not been received, because Dr. Daniel Valach has not submitted the necessary paperwork to allow reimbursement claims to be filed. In May, the hospital suspended Valach's privileges because of his lack of cooperation.

"This is slowly being resolved, but not as quickly as I wanted," Thompson said. "He has 23 charts left to do. He had 57 when we suspended his privileges."

Thompson indicated that the hospital has held off paying some bills to protect its cash reserve, because of the problems in getting reimbursement for patient services.

During the meeting, the board discussed hiring a CPA for the coming fiscal year. Board member John Ed Welch excused himself from the discussion, since he is affiliated with Hughes, Welch and Milligan CPA's, one of the firms being considered.

Board members expressed dissatisfaction with Dixon and Hughes, the firm that has been under contract, saying the firm was slow to give information and provided advice only if asked specific questions.

Thompson said she had talked to other hospitals regarding BKD, a large CPA firm which specializes in health care accounts. BKD, which is based in Little Rock, was praised for recommending beneficial changes in operation and helping the hospitals stay up to date on health care changes to help their bottom lines.

While BKD may be slightly higher in cost, Thompson said clients she spoke with said the firm brought additional revenue to the hospitals by helping them increase the amount of reimbursement they received.

Thompson added she had had positive experience with the firm while working at White River Health Service and OMC. She recommended that the board hire BKD.

Because of Welch's involvement with Hughes, Welch and Milligan, his firm could be hired to do cost reports for the hospital, but not annual audits.

The board hired BKD by a three to two vote.

When he returned to the meeting, Welch called BKD a "very good" firm. Welch said BKD tended to represent most of the large hospital's in Arkansas, while his firm specialized in small hospitals.

The board held its required annual meeting to elect officers for the new fiscal year. John Ed Welch was elected as new board chairman, Pace was selected as vice-chairman, while Darrell Zimmer was chosen as Secretary-Treasurer.

The board delayed a vote on a recommended 2012-2013 budget.

"I'd like Tony to take a look at it (the new budget)," board member Jerry Blevins said, referring to new administrator Thompson. Blevins drew laughter when he told Thompson he expected him to "write enough grants that we'll never be in the hole again."

The June meeting was Sue Hertzog's last as a board member. She was presented with a plaque and praised for her service and dedication over the past seven years, and shared a cake in her honor with those in attendance.

The next scheduled meeting of the Fulton County Hospital Board of Governors will be on July 23 at 6 p.m. in the hospital conference room. The public is invited to attend.

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