WINNSBORO — The Fairfield Memorial Hospital board continued its series of meetings with Fairfield County Council on Monday night which have been held since the institution was given $1.2 million last February.
Issues discussed included upgrading the FMH computer systems, efforts directed toward acquiring and treating more swing beds, or temporary rehabilitation patients and the hospital financial report.
Hospital board members presented the case for changing from the current, outdated Healthland computer system to an up-to-date system provided by Cerner which is 100 percent compatible with Palmetto information centers
Chief Officer of Nursing Mary Sas was part of the build team at Palmetto Richland vouched for the reputability of the system and the training. Tribridge accounting and interface software would allow different departments to have greater ease in communication which would increase employee efficiency.
Data would be archived twice daily and backed up in an off site location.
There would be no need to fear lost data or inaccessibility during a natural disaster.
FMH CEO Mike Williams estimated that some medical records workers may need to be transferred to other areas in the hospital as a result of the increase efficiency enabled by new computer systems, should they be purchased. The cost is nearly identical to Healthland data migration costs that would apply to the current program FMH uses which no longer meets measurable standards, the patient care standards for various illnesses/diseases and what benchmarks are used so that progress can be measured.
County council chairman David Ferguson said the council agreed to the logic behind the change but the question came with funding the new system. Williams noted the computer purchase would make FMH the first rural critical access hospital in South Carolina to have that type of computer technology.
Ultimately, the hospital decided to purchase the Cerner computer system for $1.7 million and allow FMH to meet “meaningful use” standards that are mandated for hospitals.
“Meaningful use” was discussed Monday night and this relates to electronic medical records for all hospitals.
The swing bed patients program was explained by Sas. This program allows patients to be transferred from Palmetto Richland or other hospitals and placed into empty beds in FMH.
She called it a win-win for both the larger hospitals who need to free up beds for more advanced critical cases than FHM can serve and for FMH who has room to provide services to a certain level of patient.
According to the board, revenue from the swing bed patient program will exceed $1 million this year in September. This program was targeted as a crucial one to the hospital retaining its financial footing and planning for future growth. The benefit of the system is that it brings more patients back into the Fairfield health care system which will provide greater access to care closer to home for those patients and their families as well as stimulate the local economy.
Fairfield Memorial Hospital CFO Tim Mitchell gave the financial report and noted the hospital operated at a $149,000 loss in August. That seasonal fluctuation in profitability was anticipated and he said that the loss was not as much as in 2011 and he noted that patient volume was similar to August 2011. During the last year the percentage of self pay patients increased from 23 percent to 33 percent of the overall mix. Mitchell noted that in many instances self pay equates to no pay and that the hospital’s bottom line erodes due to written off charges.
In July the swing bed patient census measured 10.61 patients in the program on average, but in August that number declined by an average of two patients for an estimated $160,000 loss in revenue.
Additionally, he anticipates that new inter-quality standards insurance companies are required to follow will result in an estimated 40 percent decline in patients meeting inpatient criteria.
“We may see a greater drop than that, so the swing bed program is imperative,” Mitchell said.
Ferguson concurred noting that a 2-3 swing patient change is the difference between the hospital breaking even or being in the red.
The billing department is more effective at getting bills out. Mitchell said that taking billing operations in-house rather than outsourcing them has saved the hospital money and produced a better job of handling billing, denials and collections so that the hospital collects money and pays off vendors.
Ferguson said that at next week’s county council meeting they likely will approve an agenda item changing the meetings from quarterly meetings to twice a year.
Fairfield County Administrator Phil Hinely reminded the hospital board of a bill passed that limits the percentage that county council could raise taxes at 3 percent so that means there are limits to how far funding can go with regard to EMS, fire service, the library and the hospital among other areas.
“At this point the county is tapped out,” Hinely said.
In the past there was a reserve fund that could be utilized but he said this money crunch for municipalities is an unintended consequence of the anti-tax movement sweeping the coming whether one agrees with it or not. That funding issue is all the more reason that diligent work needs to be done in case of future unintended consequences arise from mandates related to the federal Affordable Care Act that take effect in 2014, according to Hinely.
In other news, in efforts to continue advancing the organization, the hospital board announced that it would meet last Tuesday night with the CEO of the South Carolina Hospital Association.
A new nurse call system was installed in Aug. 2012, a project partially funded by the hospital foundation.