County's finances rosy, hospital's finances remain code blue

County's finances rosy, hospital's finances remain code blue

May 22nd, 2012 by Mike O'Neal in Catoosa

Two reports given during the County Commission meeting last week painted quite different pictures.

Carl Henson, the county's chief financial officer, said that revenue from sales taxes is slightly below the amount budgeted for the first seven months of the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

But while there has been a dip in revenue, Henson said Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax collections are about 9.25 percent greater than for the comparable 12-month period last year.

Commission Chairman Keith Greene summarized Henson's report saying, "Even though we're down compared to budget, we're favorable for the 12-month period."

Roger Forgey, president and CEO of Erlanger at Hutcheson, gave an overview of the hospital's current finances that, while showing signs of potential improvement, was not so reassuring.

"We had a tough month," he said, referring to the hospital losing about $1.7 million in March.

Of that loss, "self pay" (uninsured) or indigent care comprised about $1.1 million, Forgey said. Hutcheson was established as a community hospital to serve three counties, but more than 3 percent of those receiving indigent care reside outside Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties.

"We're seeing patients from three states," Forgey said.

Catoosa and Walker county governments each pledged $10 million as collateral for a $20 million line of credit which Erlanger extended to Hutcheson as part of a management agreement last May.

Forgey told commissioners that the hospital has used about half of that guaranteed loan.

When Erlanger assumed management of the hospital, it was anticipated that Hutcheson would begin breaking even in September. The rise in indigent care expenses will probably push that break-even date to sometime in January.

Forgey said cost-cutting measures are in place, staffing levels have been adjusted and physicians are being hired. Having more doctors means more patients being treated, something that means more billings for the hospital.

"What should be an 18-month turnaround needs to be completed in six months," the hospital's CEO said.

More patients are using the hospital, but increasing the number of admissions does not improve the hospital's finances if a disproportionate number are non-paying patients.

The average number of patients has been increasing and the hospital now has about 35 patients each day. Forgey said break-even is about 45, a number that would be about 40 were it not for non-paying patients.

"If it doesn't reverse course, more cuts [in staffing] will be inevitable," he said.

The hospital recently added seven doctors over a four-month period and three more physicians are to begin practicing at Erlanger at Hutcheson in July. In addition, Forgey said the hospital is actively recruiting - successfully - new doctors and enticing some who once practiced at Hutcheson to return.

"My personal belief is that there will be a community hospital here to serve the more than 117,000 who live in the tri-county area," he said.

When Commissioner Bobby Winters asked when new signs bearing the Erlanger at Hutcheson brand will be installed, Forgey said he hoped they would be in place before the end of the month.