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Lewis County officials expect hospital repayment plan Wednesday

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County officials are hoping to see a debt repayment plan from their municipal hospital tonight.

“What they give us is the first discussion point,” County Manager Elizabeth Swearingin said.

Legislators then will determine if the hospital proposal is acceptable. If it isn’t, the county will seek modifications, she said.

Mrs. Swearingin said she had expected to receive a formal plan at last week’s hospital finance committee meeting. Despite some general discussion and a short executive session, the county manager said, she did not get the specific information she was looking for but now is anticipating it at the regular hospital board of managers meeting this evening.

By having a better idea of how quickly the debt, which now stands at about $7 million, might be recovered, the county can more accurately plan for its 2015 budget, Mrs. Swearingin said. That is all the more important because of state tax cap constraints.

At the end of the hourlong committee meeting on July 22, Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, a member of the legislative Hospital Committee, said he would withhold comment until seeing the details.

“We definitely want to work together,” Mr. Hathway said.

A special board of managers meeting had been set for last Saturday morning for an internal board discussion on the matter, but that session was canceled due to expected lack of a quorum.

Now, hospital managers are slated to meet in executive session from 5 to 7 p.m., then hold an open session starting at 7 that county officials also plan to attend.

Part of the repayment strategy is expected to involve grant funding.

During the finance committee meeting, interim hospital chief financial officer Jeffery W. Hellinger reported the hospital in mid-August is expecting another payment from intergovernmental transfer funding of nearly $4.2 million. Plans are to use it to pay off the majority of the $5.1 million the hospital borrowed from the county to cover its payment last December to the state retirement system, he said.

Transfer funds partially reimburse health care facilities for losses incurred on Medicaid, uninsured and charity care patients and is paid at unspecified times by the federal government, with the U.S. covering half and the county required to cover the other half. The county will have to provide $2.1 million of the $4.2 million the hospital proposes to use to pay down debt to the county.

Hospital officials also expect other grant funding, particularly up to $4.7 million awarded recently through the Interim Access Assurance Fund, will help improve the facility’s fiscal condition.

Mr. Hellinger after the meeting said the so-called “safety net” funding, also awarded to four other north country hospitals, may be used only to cover ongoing operating losses through March 31, not past debt.

And while the funds may not be specifically earmarked for the more than $5 million pension payment expected in December, any operating losses stemming from that may be covered, he said.

“You have to have a loss to get this money,” Mr. Hellinger said.

Hospitals also must not have more than 15 days cash on hand to receive the money, but the interim CFO said the facility has been operating like that for several years.

Mr. Hellinger said while the facility saw net patient care revenues of about $300,000 under budget for June, revenues are about $60,000 ahead of budget through the first half of the year. Higher Medicaid and Medicare payments stemming from the hospital’s reclassification in March as a critical access facility also have begun to come in, which should help the bottom line moving forward, he said.

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