Hutcheson losses continue

Hutcheson losses continue

April 6th, 2012 by Mike O'Neal in Local Regional News

The financial report given last week during Erlanger at Hutcheson's board of directors meeting shows the hospital lost $1 million in February.

While twice what administrators had budgeted for the month, that loss is less than was lost during the same month last year. A year ago, the hospital lost $1.3 million in February and its budget for 2012 anticipated a loss of about $505,000. Instead, expenditures exceeded revenue by an additional $578,857.

At this time last year the hospital's board members, elected officials from three counties, the hospital's staff and the general public wondered if Hutcheson Medical Center would be able to keep its doors open through the summer of 2011.

Today, the consensus of hospital administrators and its board is not so much about if it will survive but when it will become profitable.

Since Erlanger assumed management on May 26, 2011, the hospital has made progress in attempts to attract physicians and patients.

Losing less than anticipated indicates to the hospital's board and administration that the local medical center is slowly changing course from its history of ever-mounting deficits. Even though losses continue, Hutcheson controller Denise Baker said some of these losses are due to the hospital investing in its future.

The hospital is now operating with core staffing necessary to properly fulfill its mission of serving the tri-county area, she said.

The problem is that fewer patients than expected were admitted during February in all categories except non-emergency room outpatient visits and surgeries performed at Hutcheson on the Parkway.

Areas that saw increased activity, laboratory testing and private pay (uninsured) patients, were of little help to the hospital's finances.

Outpatient lab testing is less profitable than other services provided, and about 17 percent of the uninsured are unable to pay for the services they receive.

Increased indigent care costs, fewer patient admissions, higher than normal insurance claims by employees and the expense of upgrading emergency and surgical services - all are a financial drain during the first half of the hospital's fiscal year.

But the mood among staff and administrators is better than at the same time last year.

As Dr. Willis Greer said upon being commended by the board for 13 years of service at the hospital's Chickamauga Family Practice, "We're on the right foot."

That sentiment was echoed by Walker County sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell during her recent State of the County address.

"Help me as I continue to try to meet the greatest challenge of my career, and that is to help sustain and rebuild our Tri-County Hospital, now known as Erlanger at Hutcheson," she said.

Heiskell said three questions are inevitably asked when new industry is being recruited: How are your schools? Do you have an airport? and Do you have a hospital?

The commissioner said the first two are doing well and that recent tough times "demand that we all redouble our efforts" regarding the hospital.

"Erlanger at Hutcheson's success is not an option, it is an imperative to which I pledge my full and unyielding support," Heiskell said. "We have a new CEO, new staff, new equipment, new doctors, a new board that is accountable to the citizens and, most importantly, we have a new attitude of service.

"They can and will take good care of you, but can only do so if you take them your business, keeping our hospital strong and assuring the state of Walker County stays strong and good."