North Valley Hospital board continues belt-tightening process

TONASKET – The North Valley Hospital District Board of Commissioners heard more detail from administrator Linda Michel, who spent a good portion of the board’s Thursday, Aug. 30 meeting going over measures being taken to reduce the hospital’s warrant level.

Michel reviewed a number of actions taken in the previous weeks, including the layoff of eight employees, and what their estimated savings would be for the remainder of this year and the entirety of next year.

The layoffs are projected to save about $101,000 this year and $122,000 next year.

Other cost savings include $50,000 this year and $122,000 next by closing the Tonasket clinic to civilians; $78,000 by halting second floor construction; and about $169,000 this year through the suspension of about a half dozen contracts, including $125,000 for architectural fees related to basement construction.

The hospital’s contract with Caribou Trail Orthopedics was altered, resulting in savings of about $12,000 this year and $35,000 next year, and Coast-to-Coast (which supplies emergency room staffing) reduced its rates, resulting in more than $14,000 savings this year and nearly $44,000 next year.

Also Michel said that increases in Medicare reimbursements and tightening internal controls on inventory will also help reduce the warrant level, which has been hovering around the $2.5 million mark for several months and were in the neighborhood of $2.7 million for most of that week.

Additionally, acting Chief Financial Officer Helen Verhasselt noted that the hospital would be receiving a $680,000 Medicare cost report settlement that would be applied to reducing the warrants.

Anticipated increases in VA patient enrollment, although not included in the numbers Michel presented, would also further reduce the warrant level.

“I think with the savings next year, we’ll make huge progress on the warrants,” Michel said. “The (county commissioners) know what we’re planning, and they’re thanking us for being proactive. So we’ll continue to find savings in every nook and cranny we can, because it’s wise, and salaries are about all we can control in our budget.”

In the public comment portion of the meeting, Pat Atchison asked that the board reexamine the hospital’s mission.

“You’ve stated repeatedly that you want to provide world class health care,” she said. “I don’t think that that is something this hospital should realistically provide. We do not have the economic tax base in this area to support that.

“I do want the hospital here, and good doctors, and good care for all that are here. The hospital’s primary care should be exactly that.”

The hospital board next meets on Thursday, Sept. 13.

About Brent Baker

Brent is a reporter for the Gazette-Tribune. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent started work at the G-T in 2011.

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