09/12/07 — Wayne Memorial Hospital to increase rates by 8.5 percent

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Wayne Memorial Hospital to increase rates by 8.5 percent

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 12, 2007 1:46 PM

Wayne Memorial Hospital's budget for 2008 will increase by $8 million, a 4.5 percent increase, officials announced this week. The proposed rate increase recommended for patient bills is 8.5 percent.

The $188 million expense budget was put before the board of directors Tuesday, along with proposals that include hiring at least 60 new nurses during the coming year and a separate list of capital projects that will introduce a specialized outpatient wound healing clinic, moving to a paperless medical record system, and eventually replacing the emergency department.

The biggest chunk of the budget's increase pertains to personnel --about 50 percent of total costs-- and medical/surgical supplies, which account for about 17 percent of expenses, officials said.

It offsets a couple of unexpected glitches which prompted at least two budgetary shortfalls this past year, said Bill Paugh, hospital president and CEO.

Employee benefit costs exceeded the 2007 amount budgeted by more than $2 million, and the unexpected January death of Dr. Jose Guijarro, Jr., a vascular and chest surgeon, accounted for another sharp financial gap.

A new physician with the same skill sets is expected to be in place by the end of the month, Paugh said.

Responding to the pressing nursing shortage, as well as those retiring, relocating or moving into other settings, the hospital expects to hire between 60 and 70 nurses during the coming year.

Even with the pending rate increase, officials maintain the hospital's rates are reasonable compared with their counterparts around the state, ranking 47th lowest out of 51 eastern hospitals.

"We're conscious of what hospitals around us are doing," said Becky Craig, chief financial officer for Wayne Memorial, noting the average increase range is between 6 and 9 percent. "We have just got to cover the $2 million increase in employee costs."

The hospital also works hard to position itself to attain future capital projects, Paugh said.

"One of the biggest concerns, not just in eastern North Carolina but across the country, is access to capital so we'll still have the availability when we need it."

For Wayne, that means responding to several areas -- a clinic to deal with wound care for diabetes patients, upgrading information systems, which includes x-rays, and several renovations to the hospital building.

The first order of business is expected to be construction of a freestanding ambulatory surgery center facility for outpatient surgery, which will become the permanent home for the wound center.

Renovation of the cardiopulmonary and radiology sections on the ground floor of the hospital will also be completed in 2008, permitting better patient access an flow at a cost of $3.3 million.

Plans are also being bandied about for a replacement emergency department, Paugh said. A certificate of need is expected to be filed in July 2008. The existing ER opened in 1991, with an estimated 33,000 annual visits reported. By the completion of the current fiscal year, which wraps up at the end of this month, total visits are expected to exceed 48,000.

The impact of the new energy plant will mean an additional $1.3 million in interest expenses and additional depreciation of approximately $.5 million.

Offering additional services is an ongoing effort, Paugh said.

"We really understand that health care, the health care environment, is very dynamic. We know there are things that are coming that we want to be able to provide for this community and we want to position ourselves to be able to provide them," he said.

Likewise, the hospital works closely with physicians to make sure new doctors come to the community who can accept new patients, Mrs. Craig said.

The down side to it all, she noted, remains the area of payment. With more and more "self-pay" patients --translated as the uninsured-- along with changes to the Medicaid system, unpaid accounts continue to plague hospitals like Wayne Memorial.