Hospital numbers dip

Published 1:00 am Sunday, July 17, 2011

The number of patients and surgeries performed at Beaufort Regional Health Systems is down in 2011 over what health system officials expected for the year, according to a recent financial report.
But efforts to improve finances at the local health system are working, according to that same report issued May 31 and presented last week to a committee of the BRHS Board of Commissioners charged with overseeing administrative and finance issues that affect BRHS.
BRHS had 2,327 total patient admissions as of the end of May while the health system’s 2010-2011 budget anticipated 2,465, according to the report, presented by Richard Reif, BRHS interim chief financial officer.
The total average number of patients at the hospital each day is also lower for the year than expected, with the total average daily census through May listed at 37.4 as compared to the 37.9 budgeted.
Births at the hospital are also lower than expected with 238 births recorded at BRHS through May as compared to 321 budgeted.
And fewer surgeries have been performed at BRHS through the end of May than health care officials had expected. Doctors had performed 1,978 surgeries at BRHS through May as compared to 2,175 budgeted. Last year, 2,084 patients had surgeries at BRHS.
Committee members said the decrease in surgeries is due, in part, to doctor absences and, in part, due to the reluctance of Greenville-based doctors to perform surgeries in Washington until discussions over the future of the local health care system have ended.
“I would have expected much of this to be worse because of all the doctors that were out,” said Brenda Peacock, a Washington gynecologist and member of the BRHS board. “I’m very surprised that we were as close as we were to the year before.”
Two steps taken by the Beaufort Regional Health System board in recent months have resulted in over $1.3 million in additional revenue to the financially-strapped health care system, according to the report.
A recent contract with PricewaterhouseCoopers that helps BRHS recoup insurance payments for patient care has brought in over $1 million that “likely would not have been adequately followed-up and would have been lost” in previous years, according to the financial report.
And an effort by BCE Technology of Clearwater, Fla., to improve documentation of patient charts has brought in some $366,400, including a $29,933 grant obtained to offset some of the costs of the program.
These financial improvements led some members of the panel to suggest that if they had been in place in previous years, the health system could have survived as an independent operation.
The report also led to a spirited discussion between committee Chairman Hood Richardson and BRHS board Chairwoman Alice Mills Sadler over who had been responsible for accounting in the past.
The two also debated the effects of an upcoming affiliation with University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina on the control of money donated to the health system as part of its Lights of Love fundraising campaign.
Despite efforts to improve its finances, BRHS has sustained a $2,522,589 operating loss as of May 31 and expects to sustain a $3,672,392 operating loss for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, according to the report.
And cash reserves at the health system continue to be low, according to the report.
“(O)perating cash remains marginal. Tight management of funds continues with payroll as the highest priority. As of May 31, BRHS had 5.3 days cash on hand which is about the same as the prior fiscal year end,” the report says.
The lack of operating cash means BRHS continues to pay late fees for money it owes to its suppliers because of late payments, Reif told the committee.
“One of the things that occurs when you don’t have the cash, we pay a lot of late fees to various vendors,” Reif said. “That is a cost of not having the cash and not paying our vendors.”
The health system had $966,709.70 cash on hand at the end of May, according to the report.