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Hospital turns corner financially

Mid-Columbia Medical Center has “turned a corner as a whole,” said its new chief executive officer, Dennis Knox.

He said rumors that the hospital would be closing its doors due to financial issues were unfounded.

“We have worked hard to be transparent in our communications to employees and the community regarding the financial status,” he said.

Knox was brought in 84 days ago as a turnaround expert. One good sign is MCMC is no longer using its investment reserves to pay bills, he said.

Changes include 11 layoffs — which took place before Knox arrived — plus offering early retirement to those over 60 with at least five years of experience. The hospital identified 87 such people, sent out 68 offers and 39 people were interested. Offers include severance and having insurance paid for.

The 19 qualifying nurses in the Oregon Nurse’s Association have not received the letter yet because association officials are still reviewing it, Knox said.

Some 87 percent of those who accept retirement would be replaced with less experienced staff who would command lower salaries and have smaller vacation banks, Knox said.

Knox said he has “pumped the brakes” on filling positions at the hospital. “If I may be so bold, it’s been without pain.”

He said he has not heard any complaints.

An unnamed source at visiting health, however, said one nurse accepted a job there and quit her old one, but was told before she started that the job opening was cancelled. The nurse was unable to get her old job back.

Knox said he was unaware of that situation and, if he was provided with a name, would investigate.

Knox said critical nursing jobs in areas like the emergency room, operating room and intensive care unit were being replaced as needed.

He added, “I don’t know if we’ve cut jobs, we just haven’t filled the jobs.”

He said the overall attrition rate at the hospital is about 4 percent, which has accounted for the drop in the employed work force over the past couple of months.

The hospital is also asking patients to pay deductible and co-pay costs up front instead of letting it go to collections. The hospital is collecting $20,000 more a day because of it, Knox said.

“It’s working. In less than 12 weeks it’s farther along than I could have even imagined,” Knox said.

He said, as with any professional service, patients should expect to pay at the time of service.

However, Knox said MCMC is committed to providing financial assistance to those who cannot pay for part or all of the care they receive.

All hospitals in America are required to provide emergency care regardless of the ability of patients to pay.

“All patients are treated equitably, with dignity and respect,” he said.

“We have financial aid policies and practices that take into account each individual’s ability to contribute to the cost of her or her care.”

When he started, the hospital was looking at $115 million of revenues and $123 million in expenses, for an $8 million gap. Now, the hospital is looking at a considerably smaller $2 million gap.

The hospital lost $2.8 million because of the bad winter, and its annual cost to maintain its electronic medical record system is $2.2 million.

Other things Knox is looking at include updating the “charge master,” the comprehensive listing of items billable to a patient. It hasn’t been looked at in 20 years. They will also revamp compliance billing practices.

“We believe it will render $1.5 million to $2.5 million pickup,” he said.

“We want to appropriately code for services and ensure we’re billing all we’re allowed to bill and not leaving anything on the table,” he said.

Hospitals are facing tough times all over, said Knox, with one medical center closing recently in Washington, and other large organizations facing huge losses.

The hospital is still moving forward with plans to eventually build a patient tower with 49 private rooms. The work has now been broken down into phases.

The first phase is building a parking structure, second is tripling the size of the emergency room, expanding it west into the current parking lot. The third phase, some four years away, would be building the tower.

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