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Hospital funding hangs in balance of tax

The next regular meeting of the Marengo County Commission Feb. 10 could give a clue to the settlement between the county and the Tombigbee Healthcare Authority. That is, if the commission reveals the breakdown of how the proposed one-cent sales tax is distributed.

The issue was not addressed at Thursday’s meeting of the hospital board, however, “we have agreed with county through mediation on acceptable terms” over the issue of payment for indigent care, said Mike Marshall, CEO/administrator of Bryan W. Whitfield Hospital. “We haven’t voted on it yet because it is a non issue until such time that there is a resolution on the sales tax.”

Marengo County owed $1 million just for fiscal year 2003, he said. “That’s strictly cost.”

The next step is to have the outlying counties, Sumter, Hale, Perry and Greene, to pay their share. Marshall will begin Monday contacting the chairmen of the various county commissions to hopefully get some resolution. “We have their residents who come here to use our facilities,” he said, “and we have a substantial amount of money that they owe.” He could not give a total amount owed by the counties but said it was lower than what was owned by Marengo County.

According to the hospital report card reviewed at the Thursday board meeting, the hospital had an operating profit for the month of December 2003 of $29,481. So far in fiscal year 2004, the hospital has a profit of $5,123. Last year, in the same time period, the hospital had a deficit of $539,979 for the first quarter of fiscal year 2003.

Patient volume has made the difference, Marshall said. In-patient revenues are 36 percent and out-patient revenues are up 22 percent. In-patient volume is up 11 percent, and the out-patient volume is up 13 percent.

“Our costs are down by 17 percent at the same time,” he said. He told the board Thursday “our whole goal right now is to continue to drive patient volume through our programs – at the same time to continue to improve our quality in terms of customer satisfaction.

“Our doctors have been very helpful in using the services that we have here….Local people are staying at home for healthcare now.”

New part-time doctors will be added, Marshall said. A neurologist will be at the hospital every Monday beginning next month. A podiatrist will open an office at the facility. A sleep lab will be opened with the help of neurologist. A geriatric psychological unit may be opened.

Construction of the triage area in the Emergency Room has begun. One triage nurse has been hired with another opening to be filled, he said.

Two physicians will be added to cover weekend shifts in the ER. Marshall had interviewed a doctor Friday for an ER position. The goal is to 24-hour physician coverage in the ER.

They have implemented a “swing bed” system to help with length-of-stay issues. “If we can drop our length-of-stay here by one day, we’ll immediately pick up $1 million to our bottom line,” he said. “Our length-of-stay is currently running 5.6 days; our goal is getting in down to five.” Benchmark hospitals in this part of the country have a 4.3 average.

Deliveries are up by 26 percent over last year. “More people are staying here to have their babies.”

Surgery is up by 38 percent, and Marshall feels oncology will grow, up by 36 percent.

Marshall was happy to announce that his turnover rate is 1.4 percent. “You can’t get it much better than that.” Many people who once left Whitfield hospital have returned to work there.

They plan to refinance $3.5 million worth of bonds, currently with New York banks, Marshall said. “We’ll be moving that money back to local banks. We’re actually getting a better interest rate.”

Patient satisfaction and customer satisfaction are up, he said. “We’re out telling our story better than we have in the past. People are starting to regain confidence in the hospital. We’ve still got a long way to go with certain things, but we’ve got a real tide of positive publicity out there.”

In a related item, employees of the Whitfield hospital were honored as part of the Care Club during a Friday luncheon. This is an honor given quarterly. The following employees were recognized for their patient care:

Ronnie Abrams, CT Scan;

Angela Averette, Oncology;

Dessie Besteder, PAS;

Chrissy Brooker, Administration;

Aretha Byrd, Med/Surg;

Joshua Cassity, TEMS;

Terrie Charleston, PAS;

Melonee Coats, PAS;

Vanessa Cornelson, HealthStart;

Randy Dearman, MRI;

Sandy Dearman, Emergency Room;

Shelia Durden, X-ray;

Willard Ferguson, Security;

Lisa Ford, TEMS;

Donna Sue Gandy, Administration;

Skibo HolmanPhysical Therapy

Kevin Horn, Nursing Supervisor;

Kimberly James, Med/Surg;

Beth Kaeo, ER;

Carla Lins, Health Info. Mgt;

Ginny Long, Med/Surg;

Hattie Mullen, X-ray;

Albert Murdock, TEMS;

Jennifer Overstreet, PAS;

Dr. Mohammed Salehuddin, ER;

Mitchell Snipes, TEMS;

Don Sprewell, Physical Therapy;

Jamie Sullivan, TEMS;

Susan Thomasson, Outpatient Serv. Ctr;

Belinda Williams, PT.