County commissioners last week pressed Weems Memorial Hospital executives on the need to expand hospital employee benefits, including a retirement package.
At a joint meeting July 1 with the hospital board, requested by the county, commissioners made it clear they would like the hospital to move forward on boosting compensation.
At the same time, Weems executives told the county the hospital’s financial situation is gradually improving, and that it is essential to maintain and expand the facility as a vital economic engine.
The joint meeting did not address the upcoming transition at the top, as Weems CEO Ray Brownsworth is leaving next week to return to Iowa, and assume an executive post there. Over the July 4 weekend, members of the hospital board played host to a leading candidate for the Weems job.
The meeting opened with approval of an accident settlement dating back to a Nov. 2009 accident when a Weems ambulance rear-ended a vehicle on the bay bridge (See sidebar)
After the settlement was unanimously approved, the meeting moved to the key matters at hand. Brownsworth was under the weather, so much of the discussion was directed to the hospital’s new chief financial officer, and interim CEO, John Graham.
In his financial report, Graham said May brought in about $21,000 to the bottom line, and that by year’s end, he expected to see an improved financial performance over the previous year. “If the income or loss from the operations projects out, that ultimate bottom line will be 42 percent better than as of end of 2013,” he said.
He said the two clinics have posted a $44,192 profit year-to-date, with the one in Carrabelle about twice as busy as the one in Apalachicola. Graham said the clinic in Carrabelle is seeing about 25 patients a day, and the Apalachicola one about 12.
Graham responded to a question from Commissioner Pinki Jackel that billings are being sent out “sometimes in a timely manner and sometimes they’re not. We’re diligently working on that.”
The CFO stressed that a key indicator - the entire revenue on an adjusted per-patient basis - you can see is up 16 percent over 2013. “Overall things are getting better,” Graham said, “That’s a pretty good increase for a year, a really good progress from one year to the next.”
He said Weems has made a change in the collection company responsible for ambulance charges and that “it is hard to tell” what type of improvement there will be. “It’s too early to tell you a real number you can hang your hat on,” Graham said.
He said success with collections is “pretty much at the mercy of your patient mix. As time goes on that will be a better ratio of the numbers. Sometimes it will take a year, maybe two, to get a physician in and established and get their practice as they want it. You can’t rush it.”
The hospital has about $545,000 cash on hand, about 27 days worth, he said, noting that 20 percent of patients are on Medicare, 10 percent on Medicaid, and the rest self-pay.
“That’s why reserves are 70 percent,” Graham said. “We’re maybe collecting less than 10 percent of all the self pays.”
Employee costs run $300,000 a month
The discussion then moved to benefit and pension options that Weems is now exploring. “It’s an ongoing process, we’re not to the final point yet.”
Graham said the 1 cent sales tax has brought in receipts of $525,000 year to date, and that salaries for the year, for all employees, including those with the ambulance and at the clinics, have run $2.4 million, about $300,000 a month.
Commissioner Noah Lockley pressed Graham for a breakout of the costs to pay just salaried employees, and Brownsworth said that has not been tracked separately.
Dr. James Stockwell, a Tallahassee gastroenterologist who has been active in doing procedures at Weems, said he has expanded his focus on fighting colon cancer by becoming an advocate for rural health care, “to improve timely access to quality care and help build a healthier community.”
He said the economic downturn and the absence of local doctors has taken its toll, but that the future can be bright by making the recent choices.
“There’s a certain urgency here,” he said. “It does take time to get somebody. We have a wonderful community and we have a hospital that’s on the rise with dedicated staff, we have TMH (Tallahassee Memorial Hospital) and we have a med school (Florida State).
“A lot of times people come to you wanting money,” Stockwell said. “What needs to happen is a focus, a commitment, and cooperation and people talking to each other. We do have a lot of resources; we need community involvement.”
Stockwell said he is meeting on June 26 with a dean at the Florida State School of Medicine to see about putting a medical student at Weems for a rotation during the summer.
“You do not want to lose your health care industry in this town. It’s clean, it’s high-tech,” he said. “It spends $5 million in the local economy and that could easily double with a caregiver here. They want to come where there’s good health care.
“You do have competition, serious competition. If we as a team let those services go elsewhere, the community’s going to lose money,” said Stockwell.
He said more marketing could be done to underscore the quality, skilled people working at Weems, and to look at enhancement of services, such as the stroke program, and the benefits provided by telemedicine.
“Keep your focus on those folks and continue your support for the Weems system because that’s what needs to be the center of health care in this community,” Stockwell said. “If we lose this hospital, the health care in this community will suffer. We’re going to lose lots of money and that’s bad business.”
Weems human resource director Ginny Griner outlined why key Weems executives are paid directly by TMH, with which Weems has an affiliation agreement. She said the better benefit package improves recruitment options.
“It doesn’t look right to me,” said Lockley. “Especially when they (Weems employees) are asking for benefits.”
Griner said 63 Weems employees are in the group health insurance plan, and that vision, dental and term life insurance are also offered.