Bottom line at BRHS may be improving

Published 6:27 pm Sunday, September 26, 2010

Staff Writer

Efforts to cut costs and generate more income for Beaufort Regional Health System appear to be working, according to reports given Friday at a meeting of a committee tasked with looking for additional revenue and savings at BRHS.
Meanwhile, that committee’s chairman said, although improvements have been made, much more work needs to be done to help BRHS meet its financial obligations.
“I think progress is being made,” said Hood Richardson, chairman of the BRHS Cost Containment Committee. “It’s good that we’re getting a handle on things.
“But the big problem right now is cash,” he said, in an interview after the meeting. “We need to continue to be concerned with how to take care of immediate cash needs.”
Richardson, who also serves on the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, said BRHS leaders are pleased with the efforts of Susan Gerard, chief executive officer, and Richard Reif, newly appointed interim chief financial officer, to improve the health system’s financial picture.
During the meeting, Gerard told the committee that employees are pitching in with good ideas and extra efforts to help cut costs and raise revenues as administrators continue to search for ways to improve the BRHS bottom line.
A BRHS committee tasked with collecting past-due accounts has been working hard to recoup money owed BRHS for its services, she said.
“That has been their mission in life for the past two weeks,” Gerard said.
A “point-of-service” collection system for patients seen in the emergency room at Beaufort County Medical Center, formerly Beaufort County Hospital, is in place, she said. This system requires patients to pay any insurance co-payments or other relevant payments at the time they are discharged from the emergency room.
Efforts to speed up payments from other patients treated at the medical center have helped increased the amount of income in October over the month of September, according to preliminary reports.
“We are seeing an increase in cash,” Reif said. “We are getting more money back in.”
A plan under consideration at BRHS would reduce the time between a patient being discharged from the hospital and that patient receiving a first bill from five days to three days, and it would help reduce the amount of accounts receivable, Reif said.
BRHS will begin training doctors in early November to improve the documentation of their care for patients, Gerard told the committee.
BRHS has signed a contract with BCE Technology to help the medical center recoup more money for patient care through a review of patients’ charts. This helps improve hospital reimbursement for services.
“The potential for increased revenue is there if the documentation is appropriate,” Gerard said.
The amount of the BCE Technology contract was not available by the Daily News’ deadline Friday.
BRHS may expect an infusion of some $1 million in cash early this week when Beaufort County finalizes the loan on its purchase of some $6 million worth of BRHS buildings and vacant land, County Manager Paul Spruill told the committee.
The BRHS Board of Commissioners and the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners earlier this year approved a plan that would give BRHS the money it needs to cover its $1.57 million debt payment owed on its recent expansion, pay $1.8 million on an existing loan on the property and give the health system operating capital.
Other actions recently taken by BRHS to improve its financial outlook include a 20-percent increase in the cost of meals served in its cafeteria and canteen, nonrenewal of a contract for educational software and chart reviews at BRHS affiliated doctors’ offices, among other measures, Gerard told the committee.
The changes implemented at BRHS come amid news of financial troubles at another eastern North Carolina hospital.
Lenoir Memorial Hospital in Kinston has cut 38 employees and eliminated a total of 100 positions to fix the budget deficit that it has been operating under for the past two years, according to a report in the Kinston Free Press. A hospital spokesman told the newspaper that LMH was operating at a $2 million deficit for the months of July and August, and it was forced to make cuts as part of an expense-reduction plan.