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Posted on Feb 27, 2015

Hospital starts years in the red

The Quincy Valley Medical Center is off to a rough start this year, recording a nearly $245,000 loss in the first month of the year.

The loss comes after the hospital’s board of commissioners in November cut services and increased fees for a savings of about $1 million in the coming year. The hospital’s budget predicted a $45,292 profit this month.

In comparison, in January 2014, the hospital lost $19,868, according to hospital numbers.

The end-of-the-year numbers for 2015 are not yet available, said Dean Taplett, controller for the hospital. However, the hospital did lose money last year, he said.

The loss in revenue comes during one of the hospital’s weakest months of the year. The hospital typically sees fewer patients in the early part of the year. Patient numbers then pick up after April with the start of the summer.

Mehdi Merred, hospital CEO, said that the losses in January can be credited in part to the facility’s long-term care unit. The unit, which has 15 beds, has five unfilled beds because of recent patient deaths or transfers, Merred said. The hospital is working on filling those beds and is putting some efforts into collecting on self-pay accounts, he said.

In January, patient numbers were down throughout the hospital, from the emergency room to radiology and the laboratory, Taplett said. However, numbers were only slightly down in the clinic, which saw 466 patients in January. The clinic saw 481 patients in January 2014, according to hospital numbers.

“We can’t lower our expenses much less than we have,” Merred said.

The hospital continues to closely watch its warrant line with Grant County, which is at just under $3 million. Grant County commissioners have said the hospital must have a warrant line of $3 million or less by June 1. Merred said he is confident that will happen.

“(The) $2.8 million (warrant line) is one of the lowest balances we have had over the past two years,” Merred said.

Meanwhile, hospital officials continue to have a presence at the state Legislature, testifying in favor of a proposed $1 surcharge that would be added to every ticket sold at outdoor amphitheaters. The money would be used to pay for emergency medical care at rural hospitals.

HB1009 and SB5000 are both still alive and continue to make their way through the legislative process. Neither bill has yet reached a vote of the House or Senate. The bills would apply to the Gorge Amphitheatre, whose concertgoers created $400,000 in bad debt for the hospital in 2013 and about $176,000 in 2014, the hospital has said.

County Commissioner Carolann Swartz on Tuesday said the county continues to oppose the surcharge. While Swartz had a “casual conversation” with Sen. Linda Parlette (R-Wenatchee) about potential amendments to the proposed bill and county commissioners then spoke with her via telephone on Monday, the commissioners’ stance is unchanged, she said. The issue should be solved at the local level, not by a state mandate, Swartz said.

“I still am of the belief that you can’t pick on one business,” she added.

Swartz questioned why the fire district must be included in the proposed legislation. She also would like to see the bills include a “sunset clause” and require a citizens committee be formed.

“We can’t live with the way (the bill) is written,” she said.

There is a local movement to “strong arm” commissioners into supporting the proposed bill, Swartz added.

A meeting last week of county Commissioner Cindy Carter and representatives from the hospital, Live Nation and Grant County Fire District No. 3 was focused primarily on preventative measures Live Nation may take in the coming concert season, Merred said. Live Nation is contacting a company that will assess the medical needs of the concerts and then the group will meet again, Merred said.

However, no matter what preventative measures are put in place, that does not guarantee a medical emergency, such as a heart attack, will happen at the Gorge, Merred said. While Live Nation argues that only 10 percent of its concertgoers are treated at the hospital, that 10 percent generated close to 38 percent of the bad debt in 2013, Merred said.

“We didn’t accomplish much,” Merred said of that meeting.


— By Jill FitzSimmons,