North Valley Hospital, union settle contract

TONASKET – In a sign of the North Valley Hospital District’s improving financial situation, the hospitals union employees will be receiving step increases and other improvements in the three-year contract approved the NVH Board of Commissioners at their Thursday, June 26, meeting.

The commissioners approved a $3 million package that the UFCW Local 21 recently ratified, representing an overall increase in $1 million in wages and benefits.

“When I came here we weren’t giving the employees (anything) but a two percent cost of living increase because of our debt,” said NVH Administrator Linda Michel. “We told the employees when our finances got manageable we’d be more competitive. They hung in there with us, and I think this contract reflects that commitment.

“We’ll have to cut some costs elsewhere, because a million dollars a year is a lot of money,” she added later. “But they didn’t get everything they asked for. We feel what we gave was the right thing to do; our employees are our most valuable asset.”

The contract affects Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses, office and clerical workers, service and maintenance workers and clerical workers.

Some of the significant changes included:

  • annual step increases in addition to cost of living adjustments;
  • a one percent match into employees’ retirement plans for those who have contributed their own funds for at least one year of continuous service (something that was done before NVH began having financial difficulties);
  • a number of modifications to the extended illness bank (EIB) including (1) access to EIB hours if admitted to the hospital; (2) in exchange for the aforementioned retirement account match, retirement payout of leftover EIB hours for existing employees serving 20 years or more will be reduced to 50 percent and not paid out for newly hired employees;
  • NVH will continue to pay 88 percent of employees’ health insurance, though cap to that amount was removed;
  • and for shift differential pay only, shift times were adjusted to cover 7 p.m.-7 a.m. and 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

“We’ll have our midnight shift differential from 7 p.m.-7 a.m., though (that won’t start) for one year,” Michel said. “So we upped the night shift and weekend differentials.

“The main concern was midnight nursing, because we always have trouble recruiting nurses anyway. I think the incentives will help retain some nurses.”

She said that the hospital district declined to include its per diem (under 16 hours a week) employees.

“(The union) wanted to add the per diems into the contract and make them union members,” Michel said. “None of our per diems have requested becoming union members and unless they took a vote, I wasn’t willing to do that.”

Finances

Chief Financial Officer Helen Verhasselt reported on the state of the district’s finances. The warrants had dipped to under $83,000 the previous day, though Thursday’s payroll payment had pushed them back up to about $295,000.

“There’s two large payments that should be coming in before then end (of June),” Verhasselt said.

“We won’t be OUT out yet,” Michel said. “We’ll probably go in and out for six months, but (for now) we’ll take being out for even an hour.”

Additionally, Patient Financial Services Director Jana Symonds said that a Medicare payment of $98,000 was being temporarily withheld for no discernible reason.

“We’ve made four calls in to provider outreach to get some answers,” Symonds said. “I’m pretty comfortable there is an issue on their side.”

She added that the hospital hadn’t been given notice of any potential issues.

As for the overall financial state of the district, Verhasselt reported:

  • a net income for May of about $270,000, including $362,000 for the hospital and a $92,000 loss for Extended Care;
  • net income to date was about $209,000 for the district, compared to $151,000 last year;
  • net income for the hospital is about $681,000, with a loss of $472,000 for Extended Care.

Verhasselt also reported that the VA Clinic now has 721 enrollees, compared to 618 a year ago. She added that the Veterans Administration had exercised its option to extend the contract with the clinic for another year; however, that also means a $3 per patient per month reduction in reimbursements.

“That will be a loss of more than $2,000 per month if the enrollment stays the same,” she said.

IT Roundtable

Chief Information Officer Kelly Cariker reported on a gathering of IT staff from nine different hospitals that he arranged, and that took place in Quincy on June 17. He said the primary reason for meeting was to discuss issues regarding Meaningful Use mandates, which dictate the different stages of converting to Electronic Heath Record systems.

All of the Okanogan and Ferry County facilities were represented, and all were Critical Access Hospitals with the exception of Quincy Valley Medical Center.

He said that all but one hospital had completed the Stage 1 mandates, and all were scrambling in their preparations for Stage 2 attestation, which will start in July.

“Everybody is a little concerned about some of the measures we are up against,” Cariker said. “Several facilities declined to go (forward with Stage 2 in July), even though it is the last attestation period for Stage 2 without looking at a money loss.”

In comparing hospitals, he said that NVH ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of IT staffing (three employees; the CAHs ranged from 1-5); was the least in debt of any of the hospitals in attendance; and of the four there that had Extended Care facilities had the most available beds (40, compared to 16 at two other facilities and 12 at one).

He said that the they also discussed the possibility of using one another’s facilities for off-site data backup to prevent against catastrophic data loss in the event of a regional disaster (such as a major Okanogan River flood).

Additionally, the commissioners approved Cariker’s request to update the hospitals’ data backup system, which currently isn’t able to do a full backup due to storage restrictions. The upgrade will cost $15,741.

The Board of Commissioners next meets on Thursday, July 10.

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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