Valley General Hospital has continued to operate on a lean budget, cutting the equivalent of 8.5 positions last month.
The hospital passed a levy earlier in the year, but the money won’t start coming in until May of next year, so the hospital has been running lean, said CEO Eric Jensen Friday.
Combined with the financial blow that resulted from the state finding that it had overpaid the hospital two years in a row for a certain program and demanding the return of about $1.7 million, it was necessary to reduce the staff and redistribute tasks, he said.
But such state errors hopefully won’t recur, said Jensen.
The financial leadership at the hospital at the time of the state’s overpayment was all temporary, and the arrangement with the state was very unusual, or financial management might have noticed and returned the money when it was given, Jensen noted.
Now, the hospital has permanent staff filling those roles, including new Chief Financial Officer MaLissa Westlund, who joined the staff a month and a half ago.
There is also a new controller and a new fulltime accounting person.
The hospital is continuously looking for efficiencies, said Westlund, who said she was confident that there is more room for opportunity and improvement.
Debbie Brown, the head of nursing at the hospital, who came aboard nearly a year ago, agreed.
“We are looking under every leaf and rock, ensuring we have the right people in the right roles, and ensuring we can successfully move forward as a team,” she said.
“There are always leaves to look under,” added Jensen, who himself has been on the job for about nine months.
The staff cuts were management-heavy, with three fulltime positions cut and another .7 job equivalent cut. Two staff members were laid off, and another 1.65 staff FTEs. And a vacancy in the imaging department was not filled.
When the hospital’s financial position strengthens once the levy money starts coming in, the staff will likely be reinforced, but the same positions probably won’t be restored.
“We’ll have different needs in different areas,” said Jensen. For example, he noted, the hospital had been paying outside contractors to handle medical records coding, but have now hired people to do it in-house.
“We can do it cheaper and better,” he said.
Beyond the levy money, there a couple of other bright spots on the horizon for Valley General, said Jensen. When the Washington Insurance Exchange policies begin covering the people who have signed up, that will mean a lot less people showing up at the emergency room without insurance. The management staff believes it could mean as much $1 million in additional revenue per year.
And the addiction recovery center will once again have a detox center for pregnant women soon.
“We used to generate $30,000 a month and the state pays for it,” said Brown. “It’s a priority for them.”
The hospital had discontinued the service, believing that it was necessary to have obstetrics to offer it, and the hospital had closed the birthing center.
But it turns out that the hospital is qualified to offer the recovery service, so that will likely help stabilize the hospital’s finances, as well, the staff believes.
So far, EvergreenHealth’s new primary care practice at Valley General is going well, too, and new doctors are on the way, Jensen added.
There will also be a regular staff of ER doctors soon, instead of a rotating group of doctors from a large pool.
“Turning around the hospital was a three-pronged effort,” said Jensen. “It was the levy, and that passed. It was the affiliation with Evergreen. What they are doing is effective. And it was restructuring and looking at all internal operations and that’s a been a constant progress.”