Over the past several months, Lewis County General Hospital has been the subject of news reports that have caused some people to engage in damaging speculation and spread rumors and misinformation that hurt our hospitals reputation.
Its time to clear the air so everyone in Lewis County knows exactly whats going on and whats at stake. Here is the reality we face.
Fact number one: Small rural communities are in real danger of losing their local hospitals. Lewis County is no exception.
Community hospitals like ours face a very uncertain future. Since 2000, in New York state alone, 32 hospitals shut their doors because they were financially unsustainable and couldnt be saved.
Even though weve increased our revenues by more than $1 million over the past 12 months, our costs have increased even more because of the yearly increases in pension costs. Over the last several years, these costs have gone from $1.4 million to $4.8 million a year, a 343 percent increase. In 2013, they will balloon to approximately $5,728,000.
Our goal, as set by the Board of Managers, is to find a way to maintain the municipal status of the facility and deal with these escalating costs so we can keep the County in Lewis County General Hospital.
In rural areas like Lewis County, declining populations, cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and insurance reimbursement rates, and costly new regulations may lead to a hospital we can no longer afford, and a debt we cannot carry.
The difficult financial situation reported and much talked about earlier this year in which LCGH owed the County $6 million is a temporary cash-flow situation that occurs each year. Under direction of the hospital board, LCGH is repaying the countys loan using Intergovernmental Transfer funds from the state of New York. Half of the $6 million debt to the county was repaid at the end of September, and the remaining amount is scheduled to be paid before the end of the year. Following this same approach, we expect to reimburse the county in 2013 for our 2012 state pension payment due at the end of this year.
Fact number two: Everything we are doing is to make sure we can keep emergency, intensive care unit, obstetric and surgery services in Lowville.
There has been a great deal of concern expressed about the resignation of North Country Physicians group as the provider of emergency room doctors to LCGH, prompting some to claim the hospital is trying to get rid of these doctors.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Here in rural Upstate New York, a region already suffering a dangerous shortage of doctors and nurses, it would be bad business to drive these doctors away.
Heres whats really going on.
The demand for emergency room services continues to grow. To support North Country Physicians in handling that volume, LCGH employed two additional physicians for the past two years, placing further financial strain on the hospital. To solve this problem, we are rethinking our entire model of emergency medical services.
We are currently working with North Country Physicians on a plan to assemble a combined emergency physician team and hospitalist service to run our emergency room and handle after-hours admissions.
This plan promises some significant benefits:
■ Well be able to keep our present emergency room team together, as North Country Physicians is willing to work collaboratively with a second group in this new model.
■ Well be able to increase revenues by serving more patients.
■ The new hospitalists will float in the ER during peak times, resulting in a shorter wait time for patients and fewer patients leaving without being seen.
■ Our family physicians will no longer get called in at night to provide hospitalist services to patients. This will enable family doctors to remain in practice longer. Given the difficulty recruiting family physicians, this is critical.
This new approach is just one initiative that is under way to ensure Lewis County residents can count on having a county-owned hospital in Lowville.
Change to every aspect of health care is coming; we cannot avoid it. As a hospital community, we have only two choices: we can either accommodate change voluntarily or have it forced upon us.
Fact number three: Our time is running out. We need to act now.
The Lewis County Legislature created a local development corporation to help obtain additional long-term financing, should it become necessary. But in doing so, the county Legislature gave LCGH a deadline of December 2013 to attain financial stability. Discussions are ongoing to define the Legislatures expectations.
The administrative team at the hospital, with the full approval and support of its Board of Managers, is looking for every possible way to close the deficit and protect our communitys most vital services.
With over 600 loyal, dedicated and hardworking employees, Lewis County General Hospital and Residential Health Care Facility is a major economic force in our community. Through this situation, patient care and safety have remained a priority, as this is our sole purpose for existing. It is our sincere hope that everyone reading this will recognize the real situation we all face and join the fight to keep our hospital intact.
Mr. Burch is LCGH chief executive officer and Mr. Wormuth is president of the Board of Managers.