Outlook for medical center continues to improve with community support

After struggling through a variety of hurdles during the past few years, the Madison Valley Medical Center is on stable ground and the outlook for the coming year is good, officials said at the center’s annual board meeting Thursday.

The meeting provided attendees with a look at the finances of the medical center and an opportunity to listen to reports from a variety of people including the board of directors chairman Dottie Fossel, CEO Loren Tucker, and medical center foundation chair Mary Oliver.

The annual meeting is considered an official board meeting and is a requirement since the medical center is funded, in part, by taxes from a local hospital district that encompasses Madison Valley, including Harrison, Norris and Pony.

Once Fossel welcomed about 30 people to the meeting, she turned the presentation over to the medical center’s chief financial officer John Bishop, who started with the medical center last summer.

The financial health of the medical center has been steadily improving during the past three years, Bishop said. The most recent audits of the medical center and the hospital district were positive.

Basically, the basic operation of the medical center is a money-losing proposition, Bishop said. This means the services the medical center provides aren’t offset by the money paid by patients for those services.

However, the difference between the income from patients and cost of operations has been decreasing for the past three years, he said.

The deficit is offset by the money collected by the hospital mill levy and medical center foundation fundraising efforts, Bishop said.

“If it wasn’t for the tax levy and the foundation gifts, we’d be operating at a loss every year,” Bishop said.

This past year the medical center instituted an electronic medical records program, which qualified them for two significant payments from Medicare and Medicaid totaling about $650,000, he said. This along with the medical center foundation work to secure donations to pay off imagery equipment costs have allowed the medical center to bank about 45 days worth of operating costs.

Currently it costs the medical center about $17,000 a day to operate, Bishop said. This includes the cost of paying for equipment, personnel and debt.

The goal for 2012 is to work toward having 60 days worth of operation costs on hand, which will provide the medical center with a cushion should something unforeseen happen like a Medicare payment freeze, said Tucker.

Another goal is to work to reduce the difference in operating costs and income, he said.

Three years ago that difference was $1.4 million. In 2011, the difference was about $1 million. That’s a pretty dramatic decrease, Tucker said.

If the deficit in operation costs can be covered by the money collected by the mill levy, then the money raised by the foundation can be used to offset equipment depreciation at the medical center and a variety of other things, he said.

Community support, through charitable giving and the mill levy, will continue to play a crucial role in the medical center’s stability, Tucker said.

Along with an improving financial picture, the medical center is also experiencing some stability with their medical staff, said Dr. R.D. Marks, chief of staff at the medical center.

The core of the medical staff essentially remained the same through 2011, Marks said. This includes three physicians and one physician’s assistant along with the nursing staff.

“We have a very stable staff,” Marks said.

Now the medical center is bringing in specialists to provide gynecology and cardiology services, which will help meet the needs of local patients, he said.

Additionally, Marks is working to bring in speakers and presenters to help provide seminars and continuing education for the medical staff.

“It’s been very useful for the staff,” he said. “It helps to keep us on our toes.”

Also in the past year, the medical center provided more than $160,000 of financial assistance to 932 patients, Tucker said.

This coming year, the medical center will complete a community health need assessment and implement a program partner with the University of Montana to bring mental health services to Ennis, Tucker said.

Mary Oliver provided the report from the Madison Valley Medical Center Foundation, which had a very successful year in 2011 raising money to pay for equipment, computer software and energy upgrades within the medical center.

The foundation board is excited for the coming year and enthusiastically supports the leadership of medical center board, Oliver said.

Susie Sprout gave a report on the Ennis Ambulance Service.

Last year the ambulance service had 189 runs, which average 45 miles in length. The service was busiest in July with 25 runs and slowest in December with five runs, Sprout said.

In closing the meeting Fossel announced that two of the medical center board members were stepping down from the board this year. Both John Scully and John Duncan have decided not to seek re-election this year, she said.

Scully and Duncan served as co-CEOs of the medical center three years ago just after the new building was being completed. Their leadership and service on the board is greatly appreciated, she said.

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